Can crosses on holiday party invitations create a hostile work environment?

Remember yesterday, when I was talking about religious accommodations, I said, “Treat all religions equally.”

That same rule applies to  casting out the evil devil of religious discrimination generally. Church!

After the jump, from my bloggerdome pulpit, I’m preaching my religion: employment law. All ye harassers, there is still time to repent! I will bring workplace salvation.

*** dodges lightning strike ***

* * *

So, what was that? About a 3 on the sacrilege scale? Ok, 7.

Rich v. Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, Inc. involves an Jewish employee who claimed, among other things, that her Christian co-workers created a religiously hostile work environment for her.

Among her allegations, Ms. Rich claimed that her employer placed crosses on the invitations to the mandatory company holiday party and hired carolers who sang songs at the party with heavy Christian lyrics, including “Christ our Lord.” She also alleged that, after she emailed the staff about the meaning of Hanukkah, HR accused her of violating company policy against using work computers for personal reasons, despite that the company continued to send Christmas-related emails to the staff.

So, what do you think? Hostile work environment?

Well, remember, a hostile work environment requires behavior that is either severe or pervasive. In arguing that the actions Ms. Rich described failed to satisfy the test, the company cited to another case in which a court determined that there was no hostile work environment where the plaintiff alleged that a coworker had asked him whether “people from the Mideast beat their wives;” a supervisor asked him “How come you cannot accept Jesus Christ as the messiah, the son of God? After all, he was a Jew;” and that same supervisor told him that there “is no such holiday” as Yom Kippur.

The court, however, disagreed with the employer here and concluded that Ms. Rich had put forth enough allegations in her complaint to be able to continue to pursue her claims further.

Notably, the court underscored that, while “some traditional symbols of Christmas, such as the Christmas tree or perhaps a poinsettia plant, have arguably assumed a primarily secular significance in modern society,” not so much when it comes to crosses on the holiday party invitations, and a song about “Christ our Lord.”

So peep this. Unless you work for a church, keep the crosses off the holiday party invitations and instead, go secular. Want to put up a Christmas tree? Cool. (The court was wrong; a Christmas tree is not secular). Just be prepared to display a Menorah, Kinara, or other religious symbol for employees who celebrate other religious holidays. 

Treat all religions equally.

  • michae1803

    This is idiocy of the highest order. Of course it’s only a ruling denying summary judgment so the Court’s over-zealous “sensitivity”may not result in an adverse decision. But the belief or holding that expression of one person’s religious beliefs necessarily denigrates another’s, or that employers and their representatives need to muzzle themselves about their religious beliefs so that they do not make others feel “uncomfortable” is to elevate the “religion” of secularism into an established church. We were not promised a society that is always harmonious. A free society is not necessarily a “comfortable” one. It is a society that recognizes, tolerates and even thrives upon respectful tensions. The minority has every bit as much a duty to respect the religious feelings of the majority, as does the majority to respect the religious feelings and beliefs of the minority (except where those beliefs and feelings dictate hostile actions or “jihads” against the majority). My holiday cards will continue to have messages that represent the meaning of the holiday as I understand it. If people are offended by this, don’t open the cards.

    • Kayza Kleinman

      You seem to have missed the point here. This person was REQUIRED to attend an event which was clearly religiously themed, and then was chastised for mentioning her own religion.