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An employer need not accommodate an employee's religious beliefs if doing so would result in discrimination against his co-workers or deprive them of contractual or other statutory rights. Nor does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., require an employer to accommodate an employee's desire to impose his religious beliefs upon his co-workers. That is not to say that accommodating an employee's religious beliefs creates undue hardship for an employer merely because the employee's co-workers find his conduct irritating or unwelcome. Complete harmony in the workplace is not an objective of Title VII. If relief under Title VII can be denied merely because the majority group of employees, who have not suffered discrimination, will be unhappy about it, there will be little hope of correcting the wrongs to which the Act is directed. An employer must tolerate some degree of employee discomfort in the process of taking steps required by Title VII to correct the wrongs of discrimination, it need not accept the burdens that would result from allowing actions that demean or degrade, or are designed to demean or degrade, members of its workforce.
Richard Peterson was employed by Hewlett-Packard Company for almost 21 years prior to his termination. The parties did not dispute that Peterson’s job performance was satisfactory. The conflict between Peterson and Hewlett-Packard arose when the company began displaying "diversity posters" as one component of its workplace diversity campaign. The first series consisted of five posters, including a photograph of a Hewlett-Packard employee that was labelled “gay.” Peterson respondent by posting Biblical scriptures in his work cubicle that were large enough to be visible to those passing through an adjacent corridor. When Peterson posted a particular passage condemning homosexuality, Peterson’s supervisors determined that it could be offensive to certain employees and that it violated Hewlett-Packard’s policy prohibiting harassment. Peterson was fired for insubordination when he refused to remove the scriptures. Peterson filed a religious discrimination action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., and Idaho law, claiming that Hewlett-Packard engaged in disparate treatment by terminating him on account of his religious views and failed to accommodate his religious beliefs. The district court granted Hewlett-Packard’s motion for summary judgment. Peterson appealed.
Under the circumstances, did the employer terminate the employee on account of his religious views, thereby engaging in disparate treatment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
The judgment was affirmed. The court held that the employee was discharged, not because of his religious beliefs, but because he violated the company's harassment policy and was insubordinate. The court also held that it would create undue hardship for the employer to accommodate the employee by allowing him to post messages intended to demean and harass his co-workers or to exclude homosexuals from its voluntarily-adopted diversity program.