Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

According to this story, a woman in Albany, NY claims that she was fired from her position at the TSA because of her religion: Wicca.

From the story –

Carole A. Smith said she lost her job at Albany International Airport after a series of events that started with a co-worker accusing her of casting a hex. Smith, reportedly one of the best at the airport in finding weapons and drugs, has been trying since June 2009 to get her job back.

Smith filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The case is currently in the appeals process.

Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary church, and one of the country's preeminent Wiccan educators, said the issue here is freedom of religion.


A proud Wiccan, Smith told she was advised in March 2009 by a TSA official in Albany that she was being investigated for "workplace violence" after the co-worker, Smith's former mentor, accused her of casting a spell that broke the co-worker's car heater.

"I was dumbfounded," Smith said. "I told him, that's not what Wicca is. We don't cast spells. That's not witchcraft."


The assistant director of the Albany TSA office recommended Smith enter a mediation session with her accuser, but Smith declined.

"I'm like, 'No.' I refused to do that. It's not up to me to teach her my religion," Smith said.

Insubordination was later listed as one of the reasons for her firing. But before that, Smith said she was subjected to harassment by co-workers as they heard about the complaint.

"Where did you park your broom?" Smith said one co-worker asked her. "Why don't you come to work in your pointy hat?"


After the initial complaint, Smith said she was written up on a number of minor disciplinary actions. In response, she became a whistleblower, including writing up a supervisor for leaving a gate open.

The TSA argued it had good reason to fire Smith. In a statement to AOL Travel News, the agency said an Administrative Law Judge ruled in Nov. 2010 in TSA's favor, "noting that her termination from TSA was non-discriminatory."

Because the decision is being appealed, the agency declined to comment further.

Fox said the church is providing Smith support as she tries to get her TSA job back.

"Religious discrimination is very much a part of this case; at the heart of it," Fox said. "The TSA has to uphold the constitution just like any other federal agency. We have freedom of religion protected, and it shouldn't get someone fired from their job."

Fox added the Wicca religion is often misunderstood. "It has nothing to do with negative things, with the devil or anything like that," she said.

In a lot of ways it boggles my mind that people can be so ignorant, but then after about 10 minutes at work I’m reminded that oh yeah the American population tends to be extremely ignorant of a lot of things. I know that we all have areas of expertise and we’re all ignorant about something, but this kind of blatant ignorance and bigotry is unsettling. I hope that this woman is able to get her job back, but I wonder what the working environment will be like for her when she returns.

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