Co-workers dismissed his beliefs as ‘crazy talk’ – was this religious bias?

by on October 24, 2011 · 30 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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Based on the facts presented below, how do you think the court ruled on this employment law case?

“You can’t seriously believe what you’re saying,” Evelyn Cantrell told co-worker Nathan Rieder. “I mean, you really think product bar codes contain some kind of satanic symbols?”

“They might,” Nathan said. “The Bible says no one knows when the end times will come. And before they do, there’ll be many signs and portents. These signs will include the number 666 – the sign of the beast – on the bar codes attached to clothing and food,” he added.

Supervisor Glen Green, seated with Evelyn and Nathan at a table in the company lunchroom, had been listening quietly. Now, he broke in.

A reality check?
“Nathan, your theory doesn’t jibe with reality,” Glen said. “Look, here’s how bar codes are assigned.” Glen pulled a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and started jotting figures. “See, this first group of numbers is assigned by the central coding authority. Then this next group comes from the manufacturer, and it’s randomly generated. The last number is the check digit, and it’s calculated from the previous digits. Glen sat back. “So you see, no devils or demons can slip 666 into this string. Not possible,” he said.

Evelyn snickered. “This kind of crazy talk is exactly why the rest of us think Christianity is stupid,” she said.

Another employee chimed in. “You bet it is,” he said. “Like that great DVD we watched here at lunch the other day. What was it called?”

Religulous,” Evelyn said. “I thought people would like it. That’s why I brought it in. Bill Maher really nails all these religious morons.”

“I didn’t appreciate that film at all,” Nathan said. “And now you guys are saying my faith is stupid, and my ideas about the end times are crazy.”

“Simmer down, Nathan,” supervisor Glen said. “And the rest of you, can it. Let’s drop the subject.”

But Nathan remained angry at what he considered religious discrimination, and sued the company for hostile work environment. Did he win?

The decision
No, Nathan didn’t win.

The court pointed out that he had willingly participated in the exchange in which his religious ideas were termed “crazy talk.”

The comments by his supervisor and colleagues may have been offensive, but they weren’t so threatening or humiliating as to create a hostile environment – even considering the showing of a controversial religious-themed movie, which the court said was improper but not illegal.

The company got off, but the supervisor’s conduct wasn’t perfect. He could have barred the showing of the movie at work. And he should have known that his demonstration about bar codes would fan the controversy. As supervisor, it would have been better for him to stay above the fray.

So, there you have it, readers. Based on the comments, it looks like this might be a bit of a surprise. Disagree with the courts ruling? Think they got it right? Keep the discussion going in the comments, and thanks to all who have participated so far.

Cite: Lara v. Raytheon Tech. Svcs. Co., No. 6:10-cv-1574, M.D. Fla., 9/7/11.

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30 Comments on This Post

  1. Carolyn
    October 24, 2011 - 1:21 pm

    The company management made the mistake by saying, “let’s drop the subject”.  First the DVD should not have been allowed to be shown and if the company had an anti-harassment policy and continued to communicate proper employee expectations, perhaps it would not have been shown.  I imagine that the courts ruled in favor of Nathan.

  2. Carolyn
    October 24, 2011 - 1:21 pm

    The company management made the mistake by saying, “let’s drop the subject”.  First the DVD should not have been allowed to be shown and if the company had an anti-harassment policy and continued to communicate proper employee expectations, perhaps it would not have been shown.  I imagine that the courts ruled in favor of Nathan.

  3. guest
    October 24, 2011 - 1:33 pm

    If this was considered an isolated incident than no.  If a pattern of such behavior was found, then very likely yes.

    • Friendly Guest
      October 26, 2011 - 3:21 pm

      and without direction on showing that DVD or any other, the flame is fanned…..and the problem continues (especially with the supervisor’s chiming in). I felt for Nathan, but I think he was being a little naive about the conversation. He should have been able to defend or desist in a manner that would not leave him angry. After all, he willingly participated–the video may have initiated a policy of being able to speak on it.

  4. guest
    October 24, 2011 - 1:33 pm

    If this was considered an isolated incident than no.  If a pattern of such behavior was found, then very likely yes.

    • Friendly Guest
      October 26, 2011 - 3:21 pm

      and without direction on showing that DVD or any other, the flame is fanned…..and the problem continues (especially with the supervisor’s chiming in). I felt for Nathan, but I think he was being a little naive about the conversation. He should have been able to defend or desist in a manner that would not leave him angry. After all, he willingly participated–the video may have initiated a policy of being able to speak on it.

  5. spacemunchkin
    October 24, 2011 - 1:47 pm

    I agree with Carolyn.   The management did nothing to diffuse the situation, but rather let it stand as hostile toward religious belief.  As a result, Nathan was left to feel uncomfortable.

  6. spacemunchkin
    October 24, 2011 - 1:47 pm

    I agree with Carolyn.   The management did nothing to diffuse the situation, but rather let it stand as hostile toward religious belief.  As a result, Nathan was left to feel uncomfortable.

  7. Jnelson
    October 24, 2011 - 2:05 pm

    Management did not handle this situation correctly and I agree that the dvd shouldn’t have been shown at all.  That being said, if this was a one time happening then I don’t think Nathan would have a case.  If this was on-going then he could have a case. 

  8. Jnelson
    October 24, 2011 - 2:05 pm

    Management did not handle this situation correctly and I agree that the dvd shouldn’t have been shown at all.  That being said, if this was a one time happening then I don’t think Nathan would have a case.  If this was on-going then he could have a case. 

  9. Jnelson
    October 24, 2011 - 2:05 pm

    Management did not handle this situation correctly and I agree that the dvd shouldn’t have been shown at all.  That being said, if this was a one time happening then I don’t think Nathan would have a case.  If this was on-going then he could have a case. 

  10. Jnelson
    October 24, 2011 - 2:05 pm

    Management did not handle this situation correctly and I agree that the dvd shouldn’t have been shown at all.  That being said, if this was a one time happening then I don’t think Nathan would have a case.  If this was on-going then he could have a case. 

  11. Thomasb3
    October 24, 2011 - 2:13 pm

    I agree with Carolyn.  The supervisor did not act responsibly considering the circumstances.  The DVD should not have been allowed, and discounting the employees religion (especially in front of others) in the workplace sends the wrong message.

  12. Thomasb3
    October 24, 2011 - 2:13 pm

    I agree with Carolyn.  The supervisor did not act responsibly considering the circumstances.  The DVD should not have been allowed, and discounting the employees religion (especially in front of others) in the workplace sends the wrong message.

  13. Cyndi
    October 24, 2011 - 2:37 pm

    First mistake was allowing a DVD to be played in the lunch room. Second was the supervisor
    not stopping the conversation when it started let alone jumping into the conversation agreeing
    with other employee’s and explaining what he knew.  This just opened the door for others to add
    to the conversation, thus opening the door for a hostile work enviroment and lawsuut.

  14. Cyndi
    October 24, 2011 - 2:37 pm

    First mistake was allowing a DVD to be played in the lunch room. Second was the supervisor
    not stopping the conversation when it started let alone jumping into the conversation agreeing
    with other employee’s and explaining what he knew.  This just opened the door for others to add
    to the conversation, thus opening the door for a hostile work enviroment and lawsuut.

  15. Jstanley
    October 24, 2011 - 3:00 pm

    Cumulatively, the events
    and actions described could very well have created an intimidating or offensive
    work environment.  The Supervisor’s
    nonchalant response to Nathan and the co-workers who were making the derogatory
    comments sealed the deal for me.  I think
    the court ruled in Nathan’s favor.  

  16. Jstanley
    October 24, 2011 - 3:00 pm

    Cumulatively, the events
    and actions described could very well have created an intimidating or offensive
    work environment.  The Supervisor’s
    nonchalant response to Nathan and the co-workers who were making the derogatory
    comments sealed the deal for me.  I think
    the court ruled in Nathan’s favor.  

  17. Janet
    October 24, 2011 - 3:07 pm

    While poor choices may have been made by management, unless the employee can prove some type of discrimination occurred (termination, denial of promotional opportunities, etc.), then no case exists.

  18. Janet
    October 24, 2011 - 3:07 pm

    While poor choices may have been made by management, unless the employee can prove some type of discrimination occurred (termination, denial of promotional opportunities, etc.), then no case exists.

  19. guest
    October 24, 2011 - 5:08 pm

    The company is allowing the creation of a hostile environment but they wouldn’t lose a case as general as this. There has got to be an adverse action taken against Nathan before he could prevail in a prima facie claim of religious discrimination.

  20. guest
    October 24, 2011 - 5:08 pm

    The company is allowing the creation of a hostile environment but they wouldn’t lose a case as general as this. There has got to be an adverse action taken against Nathan before he could prevail in a prima facie claim of religious discrimination.

  21. Ogbruin6
    October 24, 2011 - 8:14 pm

    no, hostile work environment would be continuous harrassment not just one isolated incident.

    • Jag0687
      October 25, 2011 - 1:15 pm

      Not all hostile work environment harrassment claims have to be continuous to be considered a true hostile work environment.  In a case like this I would agree that it was not a hostile work environment, but I also know that some cases could be considered hostile work environment without continuous acts. 

  22. Ogbruin6
    October 24, 2011 - 8:14 pm

    no, hostile work environment would be continuous harrassment not just one isolated incident.

    • Jag0687
      October 25, 2011 - 1:15 pm

      Not all hostile work environment harrassment claims have to be continuous to be considered a true hostile work environment.  In a case like this I would agree that it was not a hostile work environment, but I also know that some cases could be considered hostile work environment without continuous acts. 

  23. Mrsamarripa
    October 24, 2011 - 9:20 pm

    I think the courts ruled in Nathans favor.  The group joked and made fun of his religious beliefs and the Supervisor assisted. Case closed.

  24. Mrsamarripa
    October 24, 2011 - 9:20 pm

    I think the courts ruled in Nathans favor.  The group joked and made fun of his religious beliefs and the Supervisor assisted. Case closed.

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