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Religious objection to unions
September 02, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo

An employee doesn't want to support a union, on religious grounds, because the union supports abortion and same-sex marriage. The employee doesn't belong to any church that historically opposes unions. Do the union and employer have to accommodate this "non-church" sincere religious objection?

Title VII requires employers and unions to reasonably accommodate employees' religious beliefs. Those who have religious objections to unions and compulsoty payment of union dues can be accommodated by allowing an equivalent contribution to charity.

The twist: What if the employee does not belong to one of the churches that historically has objected to unions?

It shouldn't matter. "Religion" is not limited to those individuals who belong to certain churches (or to any church).

Yesterday, EEOC announced a big settlement involving these issues.

From the EEOC press release Justice Department And Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Settle Ohio Religious Discrimination Lawsuits:

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced a consent decree to resolve religious discrimination lawsuits filed against the state of Ohio; the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency; the Ohio Department of Administrative Services; and the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, AFSCME, Local 11, AFL-CIO. The lawsuits alleged that the state defendants and the union violated federal employment discrimination laws by failing to respect the rights of employees with religious objections to supporting the union.

The union and the state defendants permit employees who are members of churches that historically have opposed unionization to pay an amount equivalent to their dues to charity. However, they refuse to allow employees who do not belong to such churches, but nonetheless have sincere religious objections to supporting the union, to make a charitable donation instead of paying dues or fees. The suit was prompted by the case of a man who objected to associating with or supporting the union on religious grounds because of its support of abortion and same-sex marriage.

The Justice Department's lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the state defendants, and a Title VII suit by the EEOC against the union, were consolidated by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. If approved by the court, the proposed consent decree would require religious accommodations of state employees with sincere religious objections to associating with or financially supporting unions, whether or not they are members and adherents of a particular religion.

“The law protects the religious observances, practices, and beliefs of all Americans,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I applaud the Ohio state officials for working with the Department to resolve this case.”

The vigorous enforcement of Title VII against public employers is a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt.

EEOC Regional Attorney Jacqueline H. McNair said, “The resolution of this litigation will protect approximately 37,000 public employees covered by the State of Ohio’s collective bargaining agreement with the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.”

Public employees in Ohio who are not covered by this consent decree may contact the EEOC's Cleveland Field Office at (216) 522-2001 for information about their rights regarding substituting charitable contributions for dues and fees as a religious accommodation.


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