The New York City Human Rights Commission recently filed charges against Pax Assist, Inc. alleging they discriminated against their Muslim employees who provide wheelchair assistance to travelers at John F. Kennedy Airport. Supervisors for Pax allegedly refused to give employees time to pray and break the fast of Ramadan in compliance with their religious rules. According to the Times Ledger of Queens, “Some Muslim employees requested to push back existing 10 or 15-minute breaks in order to properly break their religious fasts, but were consistently refused.” The employers are accused of saying “we don’t care about Ramadan,” and “we’ll give you a break on our time, not your time” over a radio broadcast system.
Hollis V. Pfitch, deputy commissioner for the enforcement bureau of the NYC Human Rights Commission, stated in response, “Employees of every faith have a legal right to request religious accommodations and should not be harassed or discriminated against by their employers for requesting break time to observe their faith.”
This case is unique because it is the Commission that initiated the charges on behalf of the employees who wish to remain anonymous. In New York City, the Commission has the power to do this when they think it is justified. The Commission stated that they received enough anonymous tips to establish a “pattern and practice” of religious discrimination.
The Commission has the authority to award monetary damages to the employees and may fine Pax up to $250,000 if it finds violations that were malicious or willful. The Commission may also demand that the company alter their break policy to accommodate the needs of its Muslim employees.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against employees because of their sex, race, color, national origin, religion, age, and disability. New York State and New York City have similar laws that prohibit workplace discrimination. Unfortunately, for many employees, the laws alone do not prevent the occurrence of discrimination. When discrimination does happen, it is often difficult to prove. Over the years the courts, legislatures and administrative agencies have produced decisions, guidelines and regulations to provide some clarity on how to deal with many issues that arise in discrimination claims.
When it comes to religious discrimination, in particular, there are often common threads that run through claims. Employment discrimination of this nature tends to revolve around religious clothing, time off work for observing holidays or customs, and harassment against co-workers who exercise their right to practice their religion.
For example, your business may have a policy that forbids the wearing of head-coverings. This policy may discriminate against observant Muslims or Jews who must cover their heads as part of their religious observance.
Your business may require the presence of employees on the weekends. This requirement may interfere with Sabbath observances for people of various religions.
Employees are allowed to ask employers to accommodate their religious needs.
If you work in New York City or one of the surrounding areas and think you may be the victim of employment discrimination, call Leeds Brown Law, P.C. Our experienced attorneys handle a full range of cases involving workplace rights, sexual harassment, unpaid wage violations and unpaid overtime. We are available to take your call 24/7 at 1-800-585-4658.