Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

The Trump administration has started rolling back the birth control mandate

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

Federal officials, under orders by President Donald Trump, have drafted a rule to roll back the Obama-era mandate that birth control be included under all employer insurance plans.

The final shape of roll back is still uncertain: The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) website says that it is reviewing the “interim final rule” to relax the requirements on preventative services. The rule change is specifically aimed at accommodations for religious organizations, some of whom have strongly objected to requirements that they include birth control coverage under their insurance for employees.

Typically, when an agency considers changing a rule?—?which can have immediate and sweeping policy impacts?—?they publish a preliminary version, solicit comments from the public, and incorporate the feedback into revisions before handing down the final change. If the OMB is reviewing the interim final rule, however, that means the rule has already been drafted by the relevant agencies and is in the last step before being published, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

“We think whatever the rule is, it will allow an employer’s religious beliefs to keep birth control away from women. We are sure that some women will lose birth control coverage,” Gretchen Borchelt, the vice president of the National Women’s Law Center, told the New York Times.

Under the current rules, implemented under President Obama, birth control coverage is considered part of preventative medical care and must be covered by all insurers with no co-pay. The mandate has guaranteed an estimated 55 million women access to birth control and other preventative services at no additional cost to them, regardless of their employer.

In 2013, the mandate saved women $1.4 billion on birth control pills, and since the law went into effect, there has been a nearly 5 percent uptick in birth control subscriptions, according to the NWLC. The increased access to contraceptives has also correlated with a sharp drop in unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.

These public health outcomes make it easy to see why the requirement has been widely lauded by women’s health advocates and providers.

“Without question, contraception is an integral part of preventive care; women benefit from seamless, affordable access to contraception, and our health system benefits as well,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said in a statement about the mandate. “ACOG strongly believes that contraception is an essential part of women’s preventive care, and that any accommodation to employers’ beliefs must not impose barriers to women’s ability to access contraception.”

The law has been hotly contested, however, by religious organizations who object to having to include birth control in their insurance plans. Trump seized on their complaints while campaigning for the presidency, and in early May, fulfilled his pledges to evangelical Christian supporters by handing down an executive order on “religious freedom” that aimed to do two things: To make it easier for faith leaders to preach politics, and to allow employers to claim a religious exemption against providing contraceptive coverage for their employees.

Trump made the proclamation alongside representatives of Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns who have been some of the most vocal opponents of Obamacare’s mandate that insurance include birth control coverage?—?taking the fight up all the way up to the Supreme Court.

“Your long ordeal will soon be over,” Trump told them when he announced the order.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price immediately issued a statement saying that he’d be happy to take have the opportunity to reshape the requirements on birth control coverage.

“We welcome today’s executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services to reexamine the previous administration’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act’s preventive services mandate, and commend President Trump for taking a strong stand for religious liberty,” he said in a press relief.

Price has long been a vocal critic of the birth control mandate on grounds of religious freedom, and has also been dismissive of its benefit to women.

“Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one,” Price said about women having trouble paying for birth control in an interview with ThinkProgress in 2012. “The fact of the matter is this is a trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”

According to a recent survey by polling form PerryUndem, 33 percent of American women said they couldn’t afford to pay any more than a $10 copay for their birth control. Fourteen percent said that if they had to pay for birth control at all, they couldn’t afford it.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 30, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laurel Raymond is a reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and served as a Fulbright scholar at Gaziantep University in southeast Turkey. She holds a B.A. in English and a B.S. in brain and cognitive sciences from the University of Rochester, and is originally from Richmond, Vermont.

Abercrombie Lost A Supreme Court Case. Could They Win A Retail War?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Jessica_GoldsteinLast fall, Samantha Elauf, a young Muslim who was denied employment at Abercrombie and Fitch because her headscarf violated the company’s dress code, took her case all the way to the Supreme Court. On Monday, SCOTUS ruled against Abercrombie, 8-1, declaring that A&F’s refusal to accommodate a hijab-wearing applicant was a violation of civil rights law.

Elauf didn’t know about Abercrombie’s policy against headscarves; the Supreme Court needed to determine if it was Elauf’s responsibility to inquire for an accommodation or if the burden was on Abercrombie to provide an accommodation without waiting for Elauf to ask. The final call: it was on Abercrombie to provide for Elauf, not the other way around, and failing to do so constituted religious discrimination.

In a statement, Abercrombie said the case will go on and pointed out that the justices did not specifically say discrimination had occured: “We will determine our next steps in the litigation.”

So Abercrombie lost a battle. But could this loss help the chain win a retail war? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time Abercrombie rebounded from irrelevance.

As we noted on this site last year, the “cool” look once exemplified by Abercrombie’s preppy offerings and its blonde, white and athletic aesthetic is no longer cool among young shoppers. At its modern peak (which is to say, the second era of Abercrombie, after then-CEO Mike Jeffries revived the long-dormant brand in 1992), Abercrombie was raking in almost $2 billion in annual sales, with 22,000 conventionally hot employees populating 700 stores. Abercrombie thrived on a narrow definition of beauty.

As Jeffries put it in a now-infamous interview with Salon in 2006, “We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that… In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends… Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Repulsive as this modus operandi may be, there was a time, not too long ago, when it was smart marketing: when everyone was watching The O.C., when Mean Girls in their nearly-identical pink-on-Wednesdays attire reigned supreme, when sameness was the order of the day.

But 2006, in fashion years, is ancient history. Today’s teenagers are drawn to the cheap, trendy stuff on the shelves of H&M, Forever 21, and Zara (though the human cost of such inexpensive, wear-it-then-toss-it clothes is devastatingly high). Looking like everyone else is so five years ago. And Abercrombie’s idea of utopia as, basically, an Aryan, Logan’s Run-like game of touch football that never ends doesn’t jive with the taste of the most racially diverse generation in history.

 

Sales at A&F have been on the decline for years; stores have been shuttering across the nation. So before Elauf’s case was decided, Abercrombie was in the midst of some soul-searching. (Assuming corporations are people, why can’t brands have souls?) They killed the logo. They brought light into the stores and black clothing to the shelves. The nausea-inducing amounts of perfume amid the racks was taken down by a quarter. A&F even tried to go in a hipster direction; this did not sit well with the preppy populace, Abercrombie’s core demographic. Besides, these are not the kind of seismic changes that rescue a dying brand.

Maybe, just maybe, this SCOTUS case will be a watershed moment for Abercrombie. Not only is their old mode of cool no longer cool; it is so uncool that it’s literally unconstitutional. Imagine a brave new Abercrombie where the employees — ahem, “brand representatives” — actually represent a huge swath of America’s teenage population. Imagine it being totally ordinary to stroll into an A&F at the mall and be greeted by a girl in a hijab and a guy in a yarmulke.

Or maybe Abercrombie will continue its speedy, steady fall from power. But if you happen to be personally invested in the resurgence of Abercrombie as a cultural force, consider this SCOTUS ruling cause for cautious optimism.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jessica Goldstein. Jessica Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress. She also writes recaps for Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture blog. Before coming to ThinkProgress, Jessica was a feature writer and theater columnist at the Washington Post. Jessica holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, she wrote for Seventeen and Her Campus. Jessica is originally from New Jersey.

Losing My Religion

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Considering how many talking points in the 2012 election have had to do with religion (Romney’s Mormonism, the morality of the Ryan budget, and Christian views on abortion and gay marriage) it’s easy to forget that in some countries, religion and party-politics are considered a private matter, not to be discussed in polite society.

The United Kingdom is one of these countries; in the land of tea and crumpets, discussing politics or religion at dinner parties is considered cheeky. And so it is surprising that religious liberties in the workplace have been brought center stage by four of Her Majesty’s subjects.

CNN’s Belief Blog brought my attention to Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lilian Ladele and Gary McFarlane, who allege that they were each reprimanded at work for upholding their religious beliefs. After losing on appeal in British courts, their cases were heard by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on September 4. A decision could take months.

Both Ms. Eweida, a nurse, and Ms. Chaplin, a flight attendant for British Airways, wore necklaces with hanging crosses to work, were told to take them off, and refused. Ms. Eweida was suspended; Ms. Chaplin was forced into early retirement.

Ms. Ladele and Mr. McFarlane both had government jobs. Ms. Ladele was a registrar who was disciplined for refusing to process civil unions involving same-sex couples. Mr. McFarlane, who has been spearheading the legal process for all four of these cases with the support of the Christian Legal Centre, was a couples counselor paid by the National Health Service. He was fired after telling his superior that because of his Christian faith he was not willing to work with same-sex couples on sex related issues.

How would their cases fare in the U.S.? How will their cases actually fare in Europe? LASIS investigates.

A word about why the European Court heard an English case involving English people, in the first place. Britain, along with 27 continental neighbors, forms part of the European Union by giving up select parts of its sovereignty to the European government, much like our 50 states vis-à-vis our federal government. An ECHR decision will have the effect of a binding court order within Britain.

Stateside, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees of both public and private institutions against religious discrimination in the workplace. The Act set up the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which evaluates discrimination claims and allows people a means to litigate them. So far, this sounds pretty similar to Britain’s employment tribunal — where our litigants lost their case.

Our Civil Rights Act states that employers must give their employees “reasonable accommodation” for their religious needs. A 2001 U.S. Court of Appeals case echoed a 1975 U.S. Court of Appeals case, and defined the reasonable accommodation standard. In the 2001 case, a police officer sued the department after being fired for not complying with uniform rules prohibiting him from wearing a gold cross pin on his shirt. He lost.

In these important cases, our courts have said that to prevail in a workplace religious discrimination case, an employee must show three things: First, that a religious belief conflicted with a work requirement; second, that the employee informed her employer of this conflict; and third, that the employee was not given reasonable accommodation and was then dismissed or sanctioned in some way.

The employer has two possible defenses. She can show that she actually offered the employee a reasonable accommodation or that after trying, no reasonable accommodation was available that wouldn’t cause the employer “undue hardship.” This “undue hardship” would constitute outlaying more than a minimal amount of money, or risking the health and safety of the workplace.

In 2004, a Christian employee was asked to sign a new diversity policy that included a provision mandating respect for homosexual co-workers. The employee considered such a requirement to be contrary to his beliefs and refused to sign – he was fired, and sued in Colorado district court on the grounds of religious discrimination. He won, with the court deciding that so long as his actions and statements were nondiscriminatory, his personal beliefs, even illogical or meanspirited ones, are protected under the law.

But for the most part, U.S. courts have dodged how we should balance individual rights to freedom of religion and the exercise of those rights sometimes being discriminatory.

In a 2012 U.S. Court of Appeals case a counselor working for a government agency was dismissed after refusing to work with same-sex couples and making her religious views clear to a woman she was paid to help. The court didn’t rule whether or not the employee’s actions were discriminatory; it simply stated that her actions did not conform to her professional standards as a licensed counselor

In the opinion of Michael J. Broyde, a law professor and senior fellow of Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, creating a discrimination exception for religious beliefs would be a “bad idea.” He believes that it would serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card for people to discriminate in the name of religion.

Organizations like the ACLU agree, and have been trying to draw the courts’ attention to this issue for years now. Many of the cases they are supporting (on the opposite side of McFarlane and the Christian Legal Centre) are still in litigation and will continue to be for some time. We can only guess as to when or how the courts will decide.

Cross-wearers Ms. Eweida and Ms. Chaplin might not like what our courts have to say on religious symbols added to uniforms of any kind. Like the British tribunal, our courts would probably not uphold the women’s right to wear crosses while at work especially if, as the defendants in these cases maintain, it was a safety issue: no hanging necklaces are allowed for either nurses or flight attendants.

As for Ms. Ladele and Mr. McFarlane, the government workers who refuse to work with same sex couples, we can probably call this one a toss-up both in the ECHR and in our own courts.

Last year, LASIS did a story about this very issue. A government worker refused to marry same sex couples. Lots of protests. But she maintained that she was just following her religious beliefs. She was reelected.

This particular area of law is still developing and the next few years on both sides of the pond should make for interesting dinner-party conversations.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An astute reader points out that the European Union’s court is the European Court of Justice. The European Court of Human Rights is part of the Council of Europe.

This blog originally appeared in New York Law School’s Program in Law and Journalism blog, Legal As She Is Spoke, on September 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: José Ortiz (JD Class 2014) is a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico where he majored in Political Science. He is a classically trained pianist, organist and singer having performed with the San Juan Philharmonic Chorale and the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. Other than music and law, he also enjoys heated political debate and the Yankees.

Catholic Hospitals Can’t Discriminate Based On Sex In Hiring, Shouldn’t Discriminate Based On Sex In Coverage

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Igor VolskyDemocrats took to the House floor last night to defend President Obama’s regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide a wide range of health care benefits in their insurance plans, including contraception coverage. Houses of worship and non-profits primarily employing and serving those of the same faith are exempt from the requirement.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) made a particularly persuasive case, arguing that the federal law treats Catholic affiliated institutions like colleges, universities, and hospitals as employers and requires that they follow standard employment laws and regulations and treat all employees fairly. And while the government would never muddle in a church’s religious operations — for instance, it would never ask that it take on female priests, it would object to it turning away female doctors from its hospitals or refusing to perform a certain medical procedure that undermines the liberties of the patient.
These organizations — which receive tax benefits from the federal government — can’t discriminate in their hiring practices or general operations and they shouldn’t discriminate against sex in the coverage they offer to their employees. Here is how Nadler put it:

NADLER: The difference here is that churches are and should be protected in their religious role. Protected against having to violate their religious views. But they must not be protected in their role as employers. We permit a church, for example, to discriminate a religious practice. No one asks the Catholic Church how come you do not permit women priests, that’s their business. But we do not permit them to discriminate as employers. We do not permit a religious hospital or university to say we will not permit the hiring of female doctors or female professors or black doctors or nurses because that would impinge on liberty. […]

The church can preach its views, it can seek to persuade people, but it cannot coerce people who may work for a church affiliated university or hospital that they may not use contraceptives if they want to. The liberty here is the liberty of the employee that must be protected. The liberty of the church must be protected in its churchly function and in its function as a religious institution. In its function as an employer, the liberty belongs to the employees and that is the distinction that is made here. It is the proper distinction.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on February 9, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Igor Volsky is the Health Care and LGBT Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Igor is co-author of Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Fox Business, Fox News, and CNBC television, and has been a guest on many radio shows. Prior to joining the Center, Igor interned with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), hosted his own political radio show at Marist College, and edited and published a political newspaper in high school. Igor grew up in Russia, Israel, and New Jersey.

Supreme Court of the United States to Hear "Ministerial Exception" Case

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Ross_Runkel_aMarch 28, 2011, the US Supreme Court granted certiorari in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC to decide whether the “ministerial exception” applies to teacher at a religious elementary school.

[Details, briefs]

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the employer, asserting a retaliation claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The trial court dismissed the claim, based on the “ministerial exception” to the ADA. The 6th Circuit vacated the trial court’s dismissal.

The ministerial exception is codified in the ADA (42 USC Section 12113(d)), but it is rooted in the 1st Amendment and has been applied to Title VII and other employment discrimination statutes. The EEOC’s claim arose from the discharge of a teacher from a sectarian school, and the primary issue on appeal was whether the teacher was a “ministerial” employee subject to the ministerial exception. The 6th Circuit noted that “[t]he question of whether a teacher at a sectarian school classifies as a ministerial employee is one of first impression for this Court.”

The 6th Circuit observed that “the overwhelming majority of courts that have considered the issue have held that parochial school teachers … who teach primarily secular subjects do not classify as ministerial employees for purposes of the exception.” The 6th Circuit also observed that “when courts have found that teachers classify as ministerial employees for purposes of the exception, those teachers have generally taught primarily religious subjects or had a central role in the spiritual or pastoral mission of the church.” Applying those standards, the court concluded that the teacher at issue did not fall within the scope of the ministerial exception. The court noted that the teacher taught secular subjects, and spent only forty-five minutes out of her seven hour workday on religious-oriented activities. The court reasoned, “[t]he fact that [the teacher] participated in and led some religious activities throughout the day does not make her primary function religious.”

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the 6th Circuit judgment.

Question presented in petition for certiorari:

The federal courts of appeals have long recognized the “ministerial exception,” a First Amendment doctrine that bars most employment-related lawsuits brought against religious organizations by employees performing religious functions. The circuits are in complete agreement about the core applications of this doctrine to pastors, priests, and rabbis. But they are evenly divided over the boundaries of the ministerial exception when applied to other employees. The question presented is:Whether the ministerial exception applies to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads students in prayer and worship.

About the Author: Ross Runkel is founder of LawMemo, is Professor of Law Emeritus at Willamette University College of Law. He has spent 35 years specializing in employment law, employment discrimination, labor law, and arbitration.

This blog originally appeared in LawMemo.com on March 28, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

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