Former Employee Challenges Employer’s Diversity Program on Religious Discrimination Grounds

Courtney Rogers, a former recruiter for Compass Group USA, recently filed a lawsuit against the company in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Rogers argues that Compass violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after it terminated her for requesting a religious accommodation to avoid working on a corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) program that excluded white male employees.

Rogers worked for Compass, a North Carolina-based food service company, from her home in San Diego. In March 2022, Compass launched a diversity program that involved training, mentorship, and a guaranteed promotion upon completing the program. Supervisors could nominate employees for the program, but white men were ineligible to participate.

Rogers asked to take on job duties other than the diversity program because of her Christian beliefs that all people are equal. After Rogers requested a reasonable accommodation based on her religion, her supervisor fired her on November 2, 2022, for failing to perform her duties.

Initially, Rogers filed two complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) based on religious discrimination and retaliation. She filed another complaint with the California Civil Rights Department for religious discrimination and retaliation in violation of state anti-discrimination laws.

This lawsuit is indicative of recent criticism of corporate DE&I initiatives. Conservatives argue that the programs disadvantage white men, and Republican Attorneys General from thirteen states recently threatened businesses with legal consequences if they failed to end diversity programs and racial preferences in hiring and promotions.

In contrast, the Democratic Attorneys General Association emphasizes that corporate DE&I programs are legal and can enhance and enrich the workplace. Businesses can also materially decrease any legal risks associated with DE&I programs by refraining from strict quotas or hiring goals based solely on race or sex. Likewise, companies should not tie managers’ compensation to goals dependent on meeting race or sex-based quotas.

Instead, businesses should focus their DE&I programs on identifying and removing barriers to employment and advancement within the company instead of providing benefits only to certain employees based on protected characteristics. For example, successful programs might target recruitment strategies to be more inclusive, revise minimum job qualifications to include non-traditional applicants or remediate other barriers for people seeking employment.

Employers also should recognize their duty to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious observances or practice, so long as it does not create an undue hardship for their business. A reasonable accommodation is now more difficult for employers to deny following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Groff v. DeJoy, in which a former postal worker sued the U.S. Postal Service for failing to allow him to observe the Sabbath by not working on Sundays. According to that decision, a reasonable accommodation is an undue hardship for an employer only when it substantially increases costs for the company.

HBL has experience in all areas of benefits and employment law, offering a comprehensive solution to all your business benefits and HR/employment needs. We help ensure you are in compliance with the complex requirements of ERISA and the IRS code, as well as those laws that impact you and your employees. Together, we reduce your exposure to potential legal or financial penalties. Learn more by calling 470-571-1007.

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