The New Jersey Supreme Court recently held that religious discrimination hostile work environment claims should be analyzed exactly like hostile work environment sexual harassment and hostile work environment race discrimination claims.
According to Jeffrey Gold of the Associated Press, in a 5-0 ruling the Court held that a Jewish police officer was subjected to a hostile work environment filled with religious discrimination. The officer’s co-workers allegedly made several disparaging comments about him being Jewish. For example, he was referred to as “the Jew”, was once asked “where [his] big Jew nose was,” and was told “Jews make all the money.”
The Court considered whether or not a higher burden of proof was necessary to prove a religious based hostile work environment claim than race or sex based hostile work environment claims. After weighing the options, the Court held that the officer suffered unwelcome, severe and pervasive harassment. This is the same rule of law used to analyze race and sex claims. Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, writing for the majority stated, “Consistent with this state’s strong policy against any form of discrimination in the workplace, we hold that the threshold for demonstrating a religion-based, discriminatory hostile work environment cannot be any higher or more stringent than the threshold that applies to sexually or racially hostile workplace environment claims.”
This case is an interpretation of New Jersey state law, so it has limited utility in other states. However, as religious expression in the workplace becomes more open employees and employers are inevitably going to face these issues. With more religious expression comes greater opportunity for religious conflict. And creating a rule of law now, before the fires are burning white-hot, may allow reason to subsume passion.