Two women who worked for a home healthcare company in Tennessee claimed that their religion motivated their employer to fire them. But from the jump, the plaintiffs had a problem. The complaint that they filed in court belied their claims.
According to the Sixth Circuit’s opinion, the defendant hired the two plaintiffs in 2019. Both were at will. The plaintiffs claimed that in December 2020, they hosted an after-hours Christmas party at one of their homes, which they further alleged was an expression of their Christian faith. Several of their co-workers attended.
The plaintiffs further claimed that after word of the party trickled back to the defendant’s decision-makers, the company terminated their employment, finding that they had violated company directives and exhibited “poor judgment” by hosting a party that subjected all attendees — including co-workers — to the risk of exposure to COVID-19. The defendant did not fire any of the co-workers who attended the party.
The plaintiffs weren’t buying the defendant’s rationale for their terminations and alleged religious discrimination.
What does the law say about all this?
- It is unlawful for an employer to discharge an employee because of their religion.
- It is not unlawful for an employer to discharge an employee for exercising what it perceives to be poor judgment.
(I don’t believe that Tennessee has any off-duty conduct laws. Regardless, the plaintiffs did not allege any violation.)
Whether you agree with the defendant’s decision to end the plaintiffs’ employment for hosting a holiday party during the pandemic, we know from what the plaintiffs pled in their complaint that their religion didn’t motivate the decision.
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant did not fire all employees who attended their holiday party. Indeed, the plaintiffs conceded that while several employees attended, they were the only two attendees to lose their jobs. The plaintiffs’ factual allegation undermines their assertion that their religion motivated the defendant to terminate their employment.
Religious discrimination claim dismissed!
But, hey, before you go, click here (https://bit.ly/HybridRemoteAccommodations) to register for The Employer Handbook Zoom Office Happy Hour, which returns this Friday, October 28, 2022, at Noon ET for a discussion on leave rights and accommodations in hybrid and fully-remote workplaces.
And, folks, we lucked out with my special guest this week. If you’ve attended any major HR conference involving the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, odds are, you’ve seen David Mohl present, and he has blown you away!
David is a labor and employment attorney with extensive law firm and in-house experience, including building and leading the corporate legal functions of Fortune 500 companies. His skill set is diverse, but his wheelhouse is in leave management, focusing on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, paid sick leave, and related leave statutes and policies.
David and I will address considerations for evaluating accommodation requests, FMLA compliance and pitfalls, manager responsibilities, and other best practices. We’ll also entertain some audience Q&A without dispensing any legal advice or creating any attorney-client privilege.
Even though this Zoom is intended for companies with hybrid and fully-remote workforces, the rest of you are welcome to attend. You may pick up a few ADA/FMLA tips for your business too.
If you nerd out on this stuff, please join David and me on Friday, October 28, 2022, at Noon ET for the next edition of The Employer Handbook Zoom Office Happy Hour.