A police department in the West Baton Rouge area is facing a lawsuit related to religious discrimination. The department in question is in the city of Port Allen in West Baton Rouge Parish.

Police chief favors certain employees and gives promotions based on religion

The claim that was filed in federal court in the Middle District of Louisiana essentially says that a supervisor gave out promotions and benefits for religious reasons, rather than any objective criteria. The lawsuit was filed by a former employee of the department, who worked at the Port Allen department for about two years before leaving. He now works for a different police force in Louisiana. He claims that the main factor that caused him to look for employment elsewhere was religious discrimination. 

One employee in the department was given a promotion because the chief claimed that “God told him” to do so. The plaintiff also claimed that the chief used religion to his own advantage and forced employees to follow his religious beliefs to receive good performance reviews. There were also monthly meetings held where attendance was mandatory and all officers present had to pray with a pastor from the West Gate Church. The plaintiff alleges that the meetings were religious in nature and had little to do with their actual employment duties.  

The attorney representing the former officer who filed the lawsuit said public employers have a clear duty to not endorse any particular religious belief system. The reasoning behind this rule comes from the separation of church and state doctrine that is embodied in the bill of rights in the U.S. Constitution. Any conduct like the actions mentioned by the plaintiff are clear violations of those rules. Other lawyers reviewed the complaint that was filed and they agree they saying God motivated their decisions is improper for a person in a position of government authority, especially if concrete actions like promotions are involved. 

One of the most egregious actions recounted in the lawsuit involved the chief promoting an officer directly from private to lieutenant based on a prayer session he had earlier. There are several ranks between private and lieutenant, and this type of promotion would not normally be given out. The chief also told the plaintiff that some of his family problems, including the illness of his children, were related to his lack of proper faith and religious devotion. 

Claims for creating a hostile work environment and retaliating against employees were also included in the initial pleadings filed for the case. 

Religion in the workplace

While employers are supposed to allow religious freedom, they are not supposed to tell employees what to believe, or make religion a part of job duties or decisions that occur in the workplace. Situations like the news story above implicate a clear endorsement of a particular faith, which is illegal. Employers who engage in this kind of behavior can be subjected to a number of penalties, including religious discrimination lawsuits

Get local help in the Baton Rouge area

If you are having issues in the workplace related to unpaid wages and overtime, discrimination, sexual harassment, or any other problems, contact Miller, Hampton, and Hilgendorf. They can advise you regarding possible claims that may be made under state or federal labor and employment laws. 

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