Jury: Employer’s DEI training does not conflict with worker’s religious beliefs

Diving Brief:

  • An employee’s religious beliefs did not conflict with their employer’s mandatory DEI training, a federal jury found 3rd of March (Brennan vs. Deluxe Corporationno. 1:18-cv-02119 (D. Md. 3 March 2022)).
  • The plaintiff, a born-again Christian, told a human resources manager at Deluxe Corporation that his beliefs “did not allow him to choose the responses required by [the employer’s] Ethics compliance course.” The employer first implemented a 1% pay deduction for his failure to complete the course, he said, and then fired him.
  • A federal district court judge allowed his request for religious accommodation to go ahead, but the jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of the employer. She agreed that the plaintiff had a sincere religious belief of which his employer was aware, but determined that his belief did not conflict with the company’s employment requirement.

Overview of the dive:

The de facto model in Brennan may have lessons for other employers adopting DEI and anti-harassment training.

The course in question offered employees of Deluxe Corp. a list of behaviors and asked them to identify those that would likely constitute harassment of a transgender colleague.

When the complainant declined to answer the required question, a human resources manager emailed him explaining that the training was part of the employer’s inclusion and non-discrimination efforts. “It is important that as an employee of Deluxe, you recognize that we do not expect you to change your values ​​or beliefs, but rather, as an employee, your behaviors at work must meet the standards and values ​​of Deluxe.” the HR manager wrote.

This response is exactly how HR professionals should handle such complaints, employment experts have said. Employers are generally free to establish inclusion policies that dictate how workers treat each other, mandating the appropriate use of pronouns, for example; employees can make requests for religious accommodation, but an employer must limit accommodations to avoid stigmatizing other workers, lawyer previously said HR Dive. Instead, HR can communicate, as can Deluxe Corp., that an employer does not aim to dictate worker beliefs, only workplace behaviors.

Ruth R. Culp