U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Washington, D.C. 20507 FACT SHEET ON PROPOSED
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Washington, D.C. 20507
FACT SHEET ON PROPOSED GUIDELINES ON HARASSMENT BASED ON RACE,
COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN, AGE OR DISABILITY
1. The Guidelines were issued to help employers understand
existing law. Employers are constantly seeking guidance on these
issues. There were already Guidelines on sexual harassment and on
national origin harassment, but none on race, color or religious
harassment or on the other bases covered by federal employment
discrimination statutes: age and disability. Because of the
recent emphasis on sexual harassment, it was important to clarify
the fact that workplace harassment was prohibited on any and all
of the bases covered by the laws the Commission enforces. To omit
religion from the Guidelines is likely to mislead employers into
believing that religious based harassment is permissible.
2. Since Title VII was passed in 1964, it has been illegal to
subject employees to different and hostile working conditions
because of their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
This is because Title VII prohibits employers from
"discrimit[ing] against any individual with respect to his . . .
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment."
3. The Guidelines simply explain to employers the existing
rules about harassment. They were derived from case law, the
Commission's pre-existing Guidelines on National Origin
Harassment, the Guidelines on Sexual Harassment and the Policy
Guidance on Sexual Harassment. If clarifications are needed, they
will be made before any Guidelines are issued.
4. Critical point: Not all offensive conduct violates the law.
Harassing conduct rises to the level of unlawful discrimination
_only_ when a reasonable person would regard it as _hostile or
5. Because the law is violated only when the complained of
conduct is sufficiently severe and pervasive to be found hostile
or abusive, Title VII would not be implicated when a supervisor
merely tells subordinates that he or she is Jewish, Muslim,
Christian, etc. Reasonable people would not deem a statement of
one's own affiliation, by itself, to amount to severe or
pervasive hostility to those who do not share the same belief.
Nor could it reasonably be deemed to be hostile to another's
religious beliefs to wear a cross or a yarmulke. It is one thing
to express one's own beliefs; another to disparage the religion
or beliefs of others. In a diverse workforce, this is a critical
distinction and is the heart of non-discrimination law.
6. The Commission has never taken the position that Title VII
prohibits the statement of one's own beliefs in the workplace. To
the contrary the Commission has repeatedly ruled that employers
must permit employees to wear yarmulkes and other religious garb
to work unless doing otherwise would cause safety problems or
other undue hardship. In addition, Title VII explicitly permits
religious organizations to employ individuals of a particular
religion to carry out the activities of those entities.
7. As the Guidelines explain, however, the law does protect
employees from having to endure severe or pervasive conduct that
is hostile or abusive on the basis of religion. This is merely an
extension of Title VII's basic protection against discrimination
on the basis of religion. Thus, for example, an employee has
redress if s/he is subjected to repeated epithets or insults
hostile to his/her religion, just as an African-American employee
has redress when subjected to repeated racial epithets at work.
This affords protection to employees of all persuasions. Thus, a
Christian employee would have recourse under Title VII if a
"secular humanist" employer engaged in a pattern of ridiculing
the employee's religious beliefs.
8. Although the public is most familiar with sexual harassment,
the rule that it is unlawful discrimination to make work
conditions hostile or abusive because of race, color, religion,
national origin and sex, first arose in contexts other than
gender. In 1971, in a case called _Rogers v. EEOC,_ 454 F.2d 234
(5th Cir. 1971), _cert. denied,_ 406 U.S. 957 (1972), a court
held that segregating Hispanic patients can create hostile and
discriminatory work conditions for a Hispanic employee, in
violation of Title VII. _See also Rodgers v. Western-Southern
Life Ins.,_ 792 F.Supp. 628 (E.D. Wisc. 1992) (statements that
"you Black guys are too f---ing dumb to be insurance agents"
created a hostile working environment), _aff'd_, -- F.2d --, 63
FEP Cases 694 (7th Cir. 1993).
9. The portion of Title VII quoted above in Para. 2 makes no
distinction between the various bases covered; race, color,
religion, sex or national origin. Neither have the courts. Title
VII has always prohibited employers from subjecting employees to
workplace harassment because of the employee's religion. For
example, in _Weiss v. United States,_ 595 F. Supp. 1050, 1056
(E.D. Va. 1984) the court said: "when an employee is repeatedly
subject to demeaning and offensive religious slurs before his
fellows by a co-worker and by his supervisor, such activity
necessarily has the effect of altering the conditions of his
employment within the meaning of Title VII."
10. The principle that employees have a right to "work in an
environment free from discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and
insult," was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1986 in _Meritor
Savings Banks v. Vinson_, 477 U.S. 57, 65 (1986). Though
_Meritor_ was a sexual harassment case, the Court made clear that
it was applying principles applicable to other classes covered by
Title VII. The Court specifically accepted the principle that
creation of a hostile environment based on discriminatory racial,
_religious_, national origin, or sexual harassment constitutes a
violation of Title VII. _See id._ at 66. Just this year, in
_Harris v. Forklift Systems_, a sexual harassment case, the
Supreme Court indicated that all bases covered by Title VII are
treated the same. _See Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc._, No. 92-
1168 slip op. at 4 (Nov. 9, 1993); _id._ at 2 (Ginsburg, J.,
concurring) ("Title VII declares discriminatory practices based
on race, gender, religion, or national origin equally unlawful").
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