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Can Refusing to Pray at Work Cost You Your Job?

A former dishwasher has filed a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania restaurant operator.  He alleges that he was fired for refusing to participate in a prayer group. If the allegations prove true, the employer’s decision would be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The plaintiff, Matthew Grinage, stated that the managers and most of the employees at a Pittsburgh IHOP prayed together every day.  Mr. Grinage was asked to join often, and when he refused, he was told he was going to hell because he had cancer, that he was “too soft” and not a “real man,” and that homosexuals go to hell.  Mr. Grinage complained to his managers, and he was eventually sent home for refusing to join the group.

Mr. Grinage then took his concerns to the owner of the IHOP franchise, and he was told to stop making a big deal over the situation and join the group.  He reached out to the corporation but had not heard back as of the time he filed his complaint.

Mr. Grinage seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, front pay, lost wages, attorney fees, and interest.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination, but it also protects employees who do not want to participate in religious events at work.  According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), covered employees cannot coerce other employees to engage in or abandon religious practices.