Construction Worker Says He Was Fired for Skipping Bible Study
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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021
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An Oregon construction worker has sued his former employer, claiming that he was fired when he said he didn’t want to attend weekly Bible study sessions.
According to NPR, Ryan Coleman has filed an $800,000 claim against Dahled Up Construction of Albany, Oregon.
The claim includes $50,000 for lost wages and $750,000 for “mental stress, humiliation, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life.”
According to his complaint, after Coleman was hired as a painter in 2017 he learned that he was required to regularly attend the hour-long Bible study class.
Coleman, who is half-Native American and who observes Native American religious practices, wasn’t comfortable with the Bible study and told his employer that the requirement was illegal.
Joel Dahl, the owner of the company, still insisted that Coleman attend.
According to the Washington Post, Dahl told Coleman, “If you want to keep your job, everybody needs to attend. If not, I’m going to be forced to replace you.”
Coleman did attend for six months, feeling that he had no other choice if he wanted to keep his job.
When Coleman finally refused to attend, he was fired.
According to Coleman’s attorney,
A nonreligious employer cannot obligate employees to attend Bible study whether they are paid for their time or not. They can make it voluntary but they can’t make it a condition of employment.
Coleman is suing for religious discrimination under the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act, for Whistleblower Retaliation, and for Wrongful Termination.
The attorney for the employer said that the meetings were intended to help the employees, many of whom were felons and addicts.
Dahl himself had served time for second-degree assault and had “struggled with drugs and alcohol,” according to the Post.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “gives people the right to have their religious beliefs and practices accommodated in the workplace, within reasonable limits,” according to Brian Grim, president of the Maryland-based Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.
Title VII makes it generally illegal for an employer to fire or refuse to interview, hire, or give a promotion to a person based on that person’s religion, or to treat an employee differently because of that employee’s religious beliefs, non-beliefs, or practices.
According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation,
It is illegal for an employer to coerce an employee into attending religious events or practicing a religion. Thus, context is key in deciding whether an employer has crossed the line in inviting an employee to attend church. The invitation is problematic if done in a way that suggests that there will be job-related benefits or consequences based on the employee’s response. Repeated invitations that are met with rejection are most likely a form of harassment under the EEOC guidelines …. On the other hand, a one-time invitation made in a casual setting probably does not constitute religious harassment, even though this may still feel like inappropriate workplace behavior to you.