Witches Against Religious Discrimination -
Louisiana Chapter
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What is "discrimination"?
Religious discrimination is often difficult to define. One of the best available definitions is from the Military Pagan Network, which defines it as "any action, intended or unintended, that unlawfully or unjustly results in unequal treatment of a person or groups based on religion and for which distinctions are not rational considerations".

Pagans and Witches face discrimination on a daily basis. People lose their jobs and their children when others in the community learn that they have an alternative religious preference. In the public mind, "Witchcraft" is all too easily associated with "Satanism". We know this is not true (and there are further links on the Contacts page for the truth about Witchcraft), but this misconception has the potential to create extreme situations for the people involved.

All discrimination, no matter what type, stems from either ignorance or fear, and often both. The fear tends to be even stronger than usual in religious discrimination cases. This makes dealing with the situation an extremely delicate affair. Knowing both your rights and how to handle an infringement on those rights will help you manuver through these problems with the tact and diplomacy they require.
Types of Discrimination
Workplace Discrimination
While every instance of discrimination is unique, there are specific types singled out as defining discrimination. These types can include (but are not limited to):

*Discounting the beliefs of others
*Religious jokes or slurs
*Compulsory services
*Exclusionary prayer
*Stereotyping people by their religion
*Nonassociation due to religion
*Failure to provide alternative services
*Lack of concern

W.A.R.D. is primarily concerned with those cases that occur in an official capacity. Repeated slurs towards you from your boss is something we can assist you with, but a slur on the bus is outside of our purview. Most of our cases deal with employers, government officials (at whatever level and including school districts), and media representations.
Workplace discrimination has become such as issue over the last couple of years that there are quite a few regulations in place to protect employees. Some of these regulations are:

--> Except in limited circumstances, an employer cannot refuse to hire you, terminate you or otherwise discriminate against you in the terms and conditions of employment on the basis of your religious beliefs.
--> Employers may be required make adjustments in scheduling or employment policies to accommodate religious beliefs.
--> It is illegal for a hiring decision to be made on the basis of religion. The only exceptions are in cases where the applicant's religious views are part of the job description and these exceptions have to be demonstrated to the government. For example, a parochial school can claim that a teacher or administrator's religious views are vital to their ability to properly do their job.
When is a Belief Religious?
  What Accommodations Must be Provided by Employers?
Beliefs must be religious in nature to be legally protected against discrimination. You may believe that getting out of bed before 10 am is against God and nature, but unless that belief is based on a religion your employer can fire you for refusing to clock in by 8 in the morning. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has defined religious practice to include "those moral or ethical beliefs that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views".
Employers are required to accomodate religious specifications as long as it does not cause undue hardship for the employer. Practices that may require accommodation include scheduling availability, clothing/jewelry, or the inability to pay union fees. Undue hardship can include those costs beyond normal administrative expenses and if changing a senority system to accommodate one employee's religious practices keeps another from the job or shift preference guaranteed by the seniority system.
So What Can I Do About it?

There are a few things that can be done in almost any instance of discrimination to help bring the issue to a successful resolution. These steps are tailored for workplace harassment, but the the steps involved can be easily adapted to suit your individual situation.

An Ounce of Prevention...

In most cases, the people discriminating against you are not really trying to hurt your feelings or make you angry. They probably just don't know any better. They may be trying to make a joke or convert you to their point of view. Many people are simply more comfortable around people who share their value system.

If you quietly and privately explain what they have said or done that offended you, and how it made you feel, they'll probably stop. You need to be discreet and speak to them alone, with no one else around. If the situation becomes tense, consider a little gentle humor. Try not to embarass them or put them on the defensive. It is better to act hurt than angry. If you are accused of having no sense of humor, ask them if they would, for example, tell gas chamber jokes or Holocaust jokes to Jews.

Remember, your complaint is with that person alone. No matter how tempted you are, don't complain to bystanders or co-workers about your treatment. If the offender apologizes, don't gloat. It is important to treat any apology as sincere. You must also remember that you are not trying to get into theology discussions, but rather to stop any harassment. The issue here is harassment, not whose religion is "better" or more "right".

If you are asked during an interview or on an application what your religion is, remember that there is no legal reason for an employer to ask you this. Leave that field blank, or if asked, answer only, "I prefer not to discuss religion at work"--and then stick to it. If they don't hire you, you may have a perfect case for a religious discrimination lawsuit.

Document Everything

Discrimination cases very often come down to "he said/she said". Your claims are much more likely to be substantiated with documentation; evidence makes the case. You have to prove that you were discriminated against. Here are some tips:

-->Save any written correspondence between yourself and the person discriminating against you, even if you don't think there is anything there that can help you. It may come in handy further down the line.
-->Take notes of any discrimination or harrassment instances. Write down the name of the person who harassed you, where and when it happened, what they did or said, and any witnesses of the event. It would probably help your case if this notebook was kept private.
-->If possible, tape record any conversations with the potential of involving harassment; in most states it is legal to record any conversation that you are a part of. Your lawyer will be able to tell you what is admissible in court.
-->Whether or not you are being harassed now, try to get a copy of your personnel file at least once a year. If you can prove that you've had excellent reports until the discrimination started it can do nothing but help your case.

Formal Complaints

Most disputes can be resolved through informal means. If, however, all of your attempts to work things out in a reasonable, adult manner have failed, then you may want or need to appeal to a higher authority.

This is the point in a discrimination case where WARD can be of the most assistance. If you have reached this point in your discrimination case, contact your state director. S/he will need to have all of your documentation forwarded to them so that they can notify the national headquarters through the normal channels. We can't work miracles; we need more than 30 days of notice before we can render assistance. Check out the guidelines and procedures of WARD prior to notifying your state director to make sure your case complies; these procedures are available at the National W.A.R.D. site.

Follow the Chain of Command

If you are going to file a harassment complaint about a co-worker, the first formal conversation should be with your supervisor. If you need to file a harassment complaint about your supervisor, your conversation should be with Personnel or Human Resources. Don't jump the chain of command and go over your boss's head. If your supervisor wasn't very helpful, see if your company has a policies and procedures manual, and then follow its advice on how to file a complaint. If not, ask to see whoever is in charge of Personnel. When in doubt, go to Personnel--it 's their job to help you. If you are in a union, talk to your union representative.There is an important exception: if you are a member of a union, your contract may provide you with specific rights, remedies and procedures to follow. In this case your first conversation should be with your shop steward or other union representative.

Call the EEOC Before the 300 Day Deadline

If it has been nearly 300 days since you were last harassed or discriminated against and you still have received no satisfaction through informal or corporate channels, call the nearest office of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and explain your situation to an investigator. Ask the investigator for advice. If he or she recommends that you file a formal complaint, ask whether you need to file separately with your state's equivalent of the EEOC.

You do not have to wait until the corporate procedures have been exhausted. In most cases there is a 300 day deadline for filing a complaint with the EEOC or state agency.

Use Informal Means, Formal Complaint, and EEOC First!

If you have not exhausted informal means, made a reasonable attempt at using corporate remedies, gone completely through the EEOC's procedures and their complete appeals process, then filing a lawsuit would be futile.

Now You Need a Lawyer if You're Going to Go On

If you have reached this point and gotten no relief, you need a lawyer if you want to go any further. You and your lawyer need to determine what your objectives will be in filing a lawsuit.

Remember, you are not entitled to the free services of an attorney even if you have been fired from your job. You are filing the complaint, and your employer is the defendant. And remember: because the employer is the defendant, the burden of proof is on you.

Help Finding a Lawyer

If you need help finding an attorney contact your state's Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service (listed in the phone book).

If you have yet to contact WARD, do so now.

Report Actual Threats to the Police

It is important to note that if at any time during the resolution process, either formal or informal, the harassment escalates to violence, threats of violence, or property damage, cal the police! This has now gone beyond the realm of harassment into criminal activity. Don't feel embarrassed about calling the police. A well-timed complaint could save your life.

Winning Won't Guarantee You a Pleasant Place to Work

If informal discussions do not resolve the matter then you have a difficult decision to make. As soon as you start a formal complaint the atmosphere is going to get much more unpleasant. If you think you can find work elsewhere or if you can endure the present situation, you might be better off doing so. The law may be on your side but winning a formal complaint or lawsuit won't guarantee you a pleasant place to Of course, if you don't challenge religious discrimination or harassment, it will keep happening. This is a decision that nobody can make for you.