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Judge sides with NASA in religious discrimination case

Both Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibit religious discrimination in the workplace.

Many instances of religious discrimination involve either the employer failing to offer a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religious practices or religious-based harassment on behalf of co-workers or supervisors. When religious discrimination lawsuits fall outside of those situations, they can be harder to prove.

Such was the case in a religious discrimination lawsuit filed in California by a former NASA lab worker who said he was fired because of his religious beliefs. The worker was fired from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2011 after working for 15 years on NASA’s mission to explore Saturn.

The former worker, who is a self-described evangelical Christian, claimed in a lawsuit against the NASA lab that he was let go because of his belief in intelligent design, i.e. life is too complex to have been developed by evolution alone. On the other hand, NASA argued that the man was let go because of his “combative” nature and his unwillingness to keep his skills up to date.

Earlier this month, the California judge presiding over the case indicated that he was leaning towards ruling in favor of the NASA lab. The NASA lab claimed that the worker was stubborn, did not get along well with colleagues and refused to get additional training when it became clear that his position as a computer specialist was being eliminated.

The worker’s attorney argued that the worker’s supervisor had told him to “stop pushing” his religion on co-workers after he distributed information to co-workers on intelligent design. He also argued that the worker was retaliated against for contesting a written warming he had received and filing a lawsuit against the NASA lab.

It appears that while religion was an issue in this case, it wasn’t the primary issue that led to the firing. If you think that you may have been mistreated because of your religion, talk to an employment law attorney today who can help determine if you have a valid case.

Source: BloombergBusinessweek, “Judge backs NASA lab in work discrimination case,” Nov. 2, 2012


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