Employee’s Crude, Offensive Attempt at Humor Was Not Protected Religious Expression
January 1, 2014 – Employment
Plaintiff, a state agency employee, forwarded an e-mail to his co-workers that included a picture of a barbeque restaurant called “Little Pigs Genuine Pit.” The marquee of the restaurant, as shown in the picture, contained the clearly visible words “Safest Restaurant on Earth, No Muslims Inside.” Not content merely to forward the picture, plaintiff commented in his e-mail that “I think this is wonderful.” Plaintiff was terminated after several co-workers complained to management that plaintiff’s e-mail and comment were offensive. However, following an administrative appeal, the State Employees’ Appeals Commission reinstated plaintiff to his previous employment.
The plaintiff then sued his employer for religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming that he was entitled to damages because his comments were an expression of “an aspect of his religious beliefs.” A federal judge granted the employer’s motion to dismiss the complaint in Ogle v. Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development, 2013 WL 6119056 (S.D. Ind. 2013). Rejecting plaintiff’s religious discrimination claim, the court noted that:
The e-mail that … [plaintiff] sent, despite referencing a religion, did not make any claim to … [plaintiff’s] religion or his beliefs. In fact, the record shows that … [plain-tiff] has not specified that he is a member of any particular religion at all …. [Plain-tiff’s] e-mail was simply a poorly calculated joke that some people found offensive, and although it may not have warranted termination, it also does not warrant pro-tection under Title VII .… [Plaintiff] has not presented, and the Court is not able to find, any Title VII precedent … that protects an employee who makes derogatory comments about another religion.