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