Religion at work: Evaluating hostile work environment religious discrimination claims

Jason A. Cantone, Richard L. Wiener

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Studies rarely address religious discrimination in the workplace, though claims have more than doubled in the last 20 years. The present studies investigated whether social psychology can help predict perceptions of hostile work environments (HWEs) faced by workers on the basis of their religion. That is, the present research examined whether and how self-referencing, similarity, and social identity affect how people perceive complainants and harassers in religious HWE cases and if those perceptions affect legal decisions such as whether discrimination occurred. In Study 1, evaluators read case summaries of Jewish or Muslim workers facing workplace religious discrimination. In Study 2, evaluators read case summaries focused on the alleged harasser, who was either Mormon or Evangelical Christian. The present studies found that self-referenced, subjective assessment as to whether religious discrimination occurred predicted objective legal judgments made after reading jury instructions. In addition, the subjective- objective legal judgment relationship was generally stronger when the evaluator and the complainant were perceived as more similar or shared an in-group status. Overall, these studies demonstrated that the experimental paradigm used to explain selfreferencing and perceptions of sexual harassment can be applied to religious discrimination claims, and also expanded that paradigm by investigating the roles of perceived similarity and social identity. Each played an important role in the legal decision making process and Evangelical Christian evaluators were especially shown to protect an Evangelical Christian supervisor accused of harassing a secular employee. Implications for handling and reducing the number of religious discrimination incidents in the workplace are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-366
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • Hostile work environment
  • Religious bias
  • Religious discrimination
  • Self-referencing
  • Social identity theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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