New York DMV Discriminates Against Muslims, Says Employee

By Douglas Lipsky

A Muslim employee has filed a discrimination complaint against the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The employee claims that his request for an accommodation to participate in religious prayers on Friday afternoons was unfairly denied by the DMV. 

The Backdrop

The complaint, filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations-New York in October, was brought on behalf of a Bengali man who has worked part-time at the DMV since January 2019. After he was hired, the employee was granted a religious accommodation to combine his lunch break and a 15-minute break in order to observe his religious practice of attending congregational prayer, Jummah. 

That accommodation expired in May, at which time the employee requested an extension. Because Jummah prayer times shift seasonally based on Islam’s lunar calendar, however, he also asked that his scheduled break time be shifted to 1:30-2:30 p.m. The DMV allegedly denied this request as well as a third request for the same accommodation. 

According to the complaint, the DMV denied the request because an essential function of the Muslim employee’s position is to work certain hours and altering his schedule “poses an under hardship on the operational needs of the office.” 

“I believe I am being punished and retaliated against because I am observing my religious practice of attending congregational prayer,” the employee stated in an affidavit filed with the complaint.

The employee also claimed that the DMV denied a request to accommodate a schedule change during Ramadan for the same reasons. In sum, the complaint alleges that the denials were a form of religious discrimination based on the employee’s religion and national origin. 

What is religious discrimination?

Religious discrimination in the workplace arises when an employee is treated unfairly because of his or her religious beliefs. Generally, there are two types of religious discrimination, disparate treatment and failure to provide reasonable accommodation. Religious disparate treatment occurs when an employment decision (e.g. hiring, terminating) is based on religion. Disparate treatment discrimination can also involve an employee being subjected to harassment by anyone in the workplace because of his or her religious beliefs.

Failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s beliefs, such as allowing an employee to observe daily prayers, may also constitute discrimination in some situations. 

Employers are not required to grant an accommodation that would pose an undue hardship, however, the standard for undue hardship differs under federal, state and local law. 

The Takeaway

While it remains to be seen whether the Muslim employee’s discrimination claim against the DMV is valid, workers in New York have legal protections to exercise their right to freedom of religion. If you believe your employer has discriminated against you based on your religion, you should consult an experienced employment law attorney.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.