Second Circuit: Religious Beliefs Not a Defense to Mandatory Non-Discrimination Trainings


All Employers with Employees in CT, NY, and VT


March 13, 2023



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Quick Look

  • Without providing sufficient evidence, employees cannot avoid mandatory non-discrimination and harassment trainings on religious discrimination grounds.


In Zdunski v. Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that failure to repeatedly attend mandatory LGBTQ anti-discrimination trainings was not protected by an employee’s claim for religious discrimination. Here, a public school in New York mandated a LGBTQ anti-discrimination training to “maintain an environment free of harassment and discrimination” when a transgender employee requested reasonable accommodations to assist them in their gender transition. The training was also considered a supplement to New York’s mandatory Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) which requires public schools to create a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination and harassment on school property.

An account clerk for the school told his supervisor that he would not attend the training since it would be against his religious beliefs as a devout Christian. He requested the school provide a training about discrimination against Christians. The employee also posted a public statement on his personal Facebook page that criticized the mandatory training. The school notified the employees who missed the mandatory training that they were required to take a make-up training. The account clerk once again requested a training to counter discrimination against Christians but never lodged a formal complaint about religious discrimination. In a meeting following this email, the account clerk was issued a counseling memo for insubordination and was directed to attend the make-up training or face discipline up to, and including, termination. He did not attend the training and was terminated. He then filed a claim for unlawful discrimination.

In his claim, the account clerk alleged the training was meant to change his religious beliefs about gender and sexuality and attendance would have caused him to violate religious teachings. The Second Circuit agreed with the lower court’s ruling that the employee failed to provide sufficient evidence to support his claims. The evidence in the record supported the school’s position that he was terminated due to repeatedly refusing to attend a mandatory training. It was the employee who made an unsupported assumption that the school thought he was bigoted due to his religious beliefs. The employee did not provide any evidence that he was treated differently from other employees who refused to attend the training. The Court also noted that the employer would have violated its training requirements under DASA if it allowed the employee to avoid the training. Employers should note that the employer’s documentation of the employee’s refusal to attend training, a statutory requirement to provide training, and consistent treatment of all employees avoiding the training led to a ruling in the employer’s favor.


Action Items

  1. Provide consistent anti-discrimination and anti-harassment trainings to all employees.
  2. Document attendance and refusals to attend consistent with company policy.
  3. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

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