by Raymond F. Gregory. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010. 280pp. Hardcover. $55.00. ISBN: 9780801449543. Paperback. $19.95. ISBN: 9780801476600.

Reviewed by Dylan Weller, Department of Political Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Email: dweller [at] hws.edu.


ENCOUNTERING RELIGION IN THE WORKPLACE by Raymond F. Gregory, while short on analysis, is a well-rounded and engaging synopsis of religious discrimination law. Gregory has written three previous books on the legal rights of workers regarding age discrimination, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment. This book on religious discrimination rounds out his investigation of Title VII cases, providing both a readable overview, as well as a unique first-hand perspective from a lawyer with decades of experience in the field.

The book is generally well structured, beginning with an examination of some fundamental questions regarding religious discrimination and the workplace. Gregory provides a good deal of basic information related to Title VII, and examines a variety of cases, which serve to illuminate the central points of contention that can lead to workplace related, religious discrimination claims. Some common themes include proselytization in the workplace, religious symbols and garb, the observance of religious rituals inside the workplace, and the observance of religious holidays requiring absence from work. Gregory also examines a variety of cases related specifically to religion in the public-sector workplace, drawing careful distinctions between the differing obligations of both public-sector and private-sector employers. In one of the most intriguing sections of the book, Gregory turns to some interesting exemptions to religious discrimination laws granted to religious institutions. The book concludes with some general principles regarding both employers’ and employees’ responsibility to find reasonable accommodation for religious practices; as well as some summary remarks on the importance of exploring alternatives to litigation.

As Gregory observes, many of the basic issues pertaining to Title VII claims are seemingly simple questions that prove exceedingly difficult for courts to uniformly address. Gregory makes use of an amply stocked supply of case summaries to wade through murky judicial waters, taking considerable time to ponder a variety of perplexing questions: What is a religion, legally defined? Will an employer run afoul of Title VII if an employee is fired for belonging to a “religious” group whose sole mission is the advancement of white supremacist ideology? How do the courts determine sincerity of belief? If an employee suddenly avows an increased devotion to observing the Sabbath after being asked to work a weekend shift, are the courts likely to accept the employee’s profession of belief? Gregory recounts case after case, [*463] drawing attention to the difficulties courts face in attempting to iterate some general guidelines for assessment. The book highlights those areas in which legal precedent has been clearly established, while remaining always attuned to the areas of Title VII law that are less concretely defined.

Gregory borrows from his many years as a litigator in recounting a wide variety of cases related to Title VII religious discrimination claims. A number of these referenced cases are pulled from his own experience. There are moments within the text when Gregory’s perspective as a legal advocate for the victims of discrimination comes through clearly, and one may detect a slight hint of bias in his recounting of a few cases. Gregory clearly and passionately illustrates the vulnerable position of workers, forced to choose between job security and religious principle. Generally, however, Gregory’s authorial voice remains largely objective, and no less sympathetic to the plight of employers, who often struggle, through the best of intentions, to navigate the legal minefield of discrimination claims. As Gregory repeatedly emphasizes, employers can find themselves caught between two equally compelling claims to Title VII protection; forced to choose between one employee’s right to free expression on the one hand, and another employee’s freedom from religious harassment on the other. This generally balanced perspective, which is sympathetic to the difficulties faced by both employees and employers, offers the reader a pragmatic understanding of the complexity at the heart of these Title VII claims.

The heart of the book resides in the many case summaries used throughout the text. These summaries are clear, concise, and often compellingly written, though the sheer volume of case summaries (around 150 over the entire book) can be overwhelming at times. Indeed, certain cases are similar enough to others that they fail to offer much new insight. A smaller pool of selectively chosen cases could have effectively illuminated pertinent legal distinctions while avoiding repetition. Furthermore, although the case summaries are engaging and frequently offer clear insights on their own, there are multiple points throughout the text where further analysis from the author on the placement of specific cases within the broader framework of Title VII legal theory would have been enlightening. Those readers searching for a historical analysis of Title VII religious discrimination claims may also feel somewhat frustrated by the sparse attention paid to the evolving judicial trends regarding these cases over time. Although Gregory does comment on some significant shifts in legal trends occasionally throughout the book, the cases are not presented in any chronological fashion.

Gregory writes that lay people as well as lawyers not versed in employment law make up his intended audience for this book, and indeed, this book is written in a very accessible style, free from legal jargon and complex legal analysis. The writing is engaging, and the many examples offered throughout the book add narrative texture to the more esoteric legal theory. This is most certainly a strength in terms of accessibility, but of course a more informed reader may find themselves wishing for a more [*464] penetrating analysis of the subject. Overall, however, I found the use of so many case studies to be enlightening rather than distracting. The sheer preponderance of cases, even those that are less distinct than others, gives the reader a clearer sense of how varied and complex these claims can be. I would recommend this book for classes on workplace discrimination as well as classes more generally focused on religion and the law, with the understanding that some supplemental analysis may be required to add depth to this thoughtfully gathered and nicely summarized selection of cases.

© Copyright 2011 by the author, Dylan Weller.