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Religious discrimination, bullying, and a hostile work environment

Discrimination against an employee based on religion:  An employer who stood by while co-workers ridiculed an employee for his religious beliefs faces liability, even though the supervisors did not actively participate in the bullying. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly recently reported a case where the plaintiff, a born-again Christian, claimed that his religious beliefs were met with persistent hostility and harassment by his co-workers. The plaintiff, a truck driver, alleged that his fellow employees called him “Father Bill”, made fun of him for reading his Bible during lunch breaks, placed pornography in his work area, and other offensive behavior. There was no evidence that his supervisors participated in the harassment.

The company countered that the plaintiff provoked reactions from colleagues by aggressively promoting his religious beliefs at work. The company argued that the “Father Bill” comments did not rise above the level of offensive utterances. The company asked for summary judgment because, it claimed, the plaintiff could not show how the alleged harassment affected his ability to do his job, which the plaintiff acknowledged he liked.

The U.S. District Court in Boston rejected the company’s motion, paving the way for the case to go to trial. The Court found that there was enough evidence for a jury to consider whether the plaintiff labored in a hostile work environment due to his religious beliefs. The evidence included the plaintiff’s allegations that he was not allowed to use heavy equipment and was fired in retaliation for filing an internal grievance and a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. The Court ruled that these adverse job actions were enough evidence to allow the plaintiff to pursue his claim for an illegally hostile work environment and discriminatory retaliation.  The case is Almeder v. Town of Bourne.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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