October 15, 2021

Volume XI, Number 288

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For the First Time in 12 Years, EEOC Releases Updated Proposals to Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination

On November 17, 2020 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released proposed updates to its Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination (“Manual”). The draft revisions (which can be found here) are available for public input until December 17, 2020, after which the EEOC will consider the public’s input, make any changes, and publish the finalized Manual.

The updates do not change any existing obligations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) with respect to religious discrimination. However, they do clarify the EEOC’s guidance with respect to Title VII’s religious-related requirements by taking into account various Supreme Court and lower-level court decisions that have been published since 2008, which was the last time the Manual was updated.

Most notably, with respect to individual employee rights, the Manual includes updates to employee protections from religious discrimination in the areas of reasonable accommodations and harassment. Those updates are based, in large part, on the Supreme Court’s decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. 768 (2015). In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that an employer can be held liable under Title VII for refusing to hire an applicant based on a religious observance or practice even if the employer did not have “direct” knowledge that a religious accommodation was required. An employee need only show that a reasonable accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.

The Manual also includes updated guidance with respect to defenses that may be available to private employers who hold religious views. Informed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 2751 (2014), the proposed revisions to the Manual reflect that, where certain legal requirements conflict with the religious beliefs of an owner of a closely held corporation, the federal government may not be able to enforce those legal requirements.

Another major concern of the EEOC in revising the Manual is whether the guidance properly balances religious liberties with other civil rights.

As employer- and employee-advocacy groups will weigh in on the proposed changes to guidelines in the Manual over the next month, Employers should continue to monitor any ultimate changes to the EEOC guidance and consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance with the laws.

Copyright © 2021, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 329
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About this Author

J. Marshall Horton, Andrews Kurth, Discrimination Lawyer, Employer Rights
Associate

Marshall focuses his labor and employment practice on representing employers in litigation involving Title VII, Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), Family & Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") (single plaintiff and collective action), National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), Operational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"), Sarbanes Oxley and related retaliation issues. Marshall's practice includes involvement in federal and state administrative actions and investigations with agencies...

713.220.4024
Holly H. Williamson Partner Houston  Energy Retail and Consumer Products
Partner

Holly represents management in labor and employment law litigation, contract negotiations, drug testing and arbitrations.

Holly represents clients before administrative agencies, such as the Department of Labor,  the Department of Justice, the EEOC, the Texas Commissions on Human Rights and the Texas Workforce Commission.

She serves as primary regional employment counsel to companies in the oil and gas exploration and production, oil and gas tools and service, restaurant, retail, financial, chemical, health care, drug testing and administration, transportation, and...

713-229-5717
Kevin J. White Employment Lawyer Hunton AK
Partner

Kevin co-chairs the firm’s labor and employment team and  has a national practice that focuses on complex employment litigation and employment advice and counseling.

In particular, Kevin has extensive experience representing clients in the retail, energy and financial services industries in discrimination class action litigation, governmental agency systemic discrimination investigations, and wage and hour litigation. Other significant aspects of his practice include conducting internal investigations, advising clients regarding executive...

202 955 1886 direct
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