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Our company recently accepted a contract to work with a US-based religious institution that is known for its conservative stance.

For example, one of their tenets is that homosexuality is a sin.

I love my job, but, I am a young homosexual and much of the services we must provide for them includes dealing with propagating their message.

I do not want to serve this customer or further their mission. Our company provides services/contract-based work, not "you can buy a ready-made good in our store".

This distinction is important since I've read other cases in the US where turning away customers for items you would have sold anyway solely based on religious beliefs/etc. would be discriminatory. (Funnily enough, they went in the other direction, as I recall the "cake case" where a baker didn't want to sell to a homosexual pair).

A few questions here:

  • How can I (legally) avoid having to work on projects involved with that client?
  • Is the company obligated to accept contracts from such customers, or can it turn them away?
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    May 18 at 7:08
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    Related: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/129208/… (since moving the comments to chat wholesale seems to have removed it from the related links)
    – ColleenV
    May 18 at 10:32
  • I just deleted 35 comments, please remember to be nice. This isn't the place for theology. And I won't be banning anyone for perfectly harmless comments so please don't ask.
    – Kilisi
    May 19 at 1:02
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Two things to note.

  • Unless you are the owner manager, your feelings are somewhat irrelevant to the deal. Which means that protesting this may cost you your job.

  • In the “cake case”, the baker case was refusing to bake a custom cake, not refusing to sell a pre-made cake. It sounds like your company’s situation is a very close analog to the bakers. This is important because if your boss says they have to take the contract because otherwise they will LOSE a lawsuit, that would be either a mistake or a lie. It’s possible your company would be sued, after all the baker was, despite most people being able to predict the outcome well in advance, and that winning such a suit could destroy the company. So, being sued is a justifiable fear. Losing such a suit isn’t. Also, note the baker is being sued again, if he had just made a vile tasting and looking cake, he wouldn’t be facing going through the same thing all over again.

You can’t legally force your company to retain you, while refusing to do work, but neither can they retain you and force you to do work you don’t want to do (whether you don’t want to for moral, emotional, aesthetic or random reasons).

Now, what I would recommend is talking to your manager, and asking to be taken off this project. It’s a reasonable request, and unless you are critical to the project, one that should be granted without too much drama. If your manager refuses (or even says ok but asks for an unduly long period to make the change), you might want to investigate working elsewhere.

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    "In the “cake case”, the baker case was refusing to bake a custom cake, not refusing to sell a pre-made cake." - It's important to point out that case also took years to reach the Supreme Court, and the legal prescient still has not been formed, if a company can or cannot deny to make a product based on religious grounds. The "cake case" is also irrelevant, finding a company's client content on a website (and/or) product that you are making for them offensive, is a personal problem not a legal problem. The company already decided to make the cake.
    – Donald
    May 17 at 15:50
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    "Political stance", unlike sexual orientation, is not a protected characteristic. The cake case does not apply here. It would apply if they refused to serve Christians per se, but that is not the case. May 17 at 21:35
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    Don't merchants have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason though?
    – JMERICKS
    May 17 at 22:22
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    @JMERICKS No, it's illegal to discriminate against people (read: deny service) against members of a protected class because of their membership in the class (read: because of their religion or sexual orientation). It might also be illegal to deny service to people if you are considered a "common carrier."
    – Joe
    May 17 at 23:21
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    To the second point, it's possible taking the work could also result in damage to the company -- bad press or employees leaving. May 18 at 3:02
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How can I (legally) avoid having to work on projects involved with that client?

You can discuss your feelings with management, and ask that you not be put on any projects with this particular client.

If they insist, you can find a new job and leave this company.

We each get to decide how important our principles are.

Is the company obligated to accept contracts from such customers, or can it turn them away?

The company is probably not legally compelled to do projects for this client. But the details matter. This is a question for management and/or the company lawyer.

But it sounds like the decision has already been made, so I'm not sure it matters - other than helping you decide if you want to continue to work for a company that would do projects for this kind of client.

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    I think no matter what, this is discrimination against the employee. I'm very surprised that people don't seem to be factoring this into their answers. May 17 at 21:37
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    @DaveKanter how so?
    – Tim
    May 17 at 22:18
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    If a client walks into the office and starts shouting the n-word that's discrimination at work. There have been plenty of cases that affirm this. I'm pretty sure under the equal protection clause that they apply to everyone. May 17 at 22:29
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    But @JoeStrazzere, if a company owner is making obnoxious comments that create a hostile workplaceI think it's a difficult defense that the owner didn't know the comments were obnoxious. I do myself have a question as to whether or not the company know the OP is gay, but should/does it matter? May 18 at 0:48
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    @DaveKanter Can you point out anything that says anyone made a comment in the workplace? I read the question multiple times and do not see anything of the sort.
    – Clay07g
    May 18 at 2:43
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From the other side, there's this answer from 7 years ago:

The core of those answers apply here too; basically:

  • Personal preferences and biases are real and valid reasons why you may not be the best-suited employee to work on this particular contract. If you don't think you can objectively do a good job on this contract for personal reasons, that is a fair and valid thing to discuss with your manager.
  • Do it quietly so you don't start a political or religious debate within your own team.
  • Do it quietly so you don't start a trend of people refusing projects for less reasonable reasons.

As the top answer says: "Basically, I would treat this similar to a religious holiday or a sick day: okay a few times a year, but not every week; not an issue as long as it does not cause a strife.".

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    Interestingly, I thought it might be good to object also in order to show to the management that one feels a line has been crossed. So while I would not create strife I would (depending on my personal situation, availability of other jobs, general appreciation for the current one etc.) also not be particularly discreet but make it generally known that I refused to do work for that customer. The OP may not be the only one feeling uncomfortable. Similar conflicts with work for the military or ICE have surfaced in some large companies. They certainly have an impact on management decisions. May 18 at 12:14
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    In other words, maybe one wants the debate. (I would want it.) May 18 at 12:15
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica So this question was about how the OP can avoid working for this client. IMO quietly asking to be off a project for personal reasons, and loudly refusing to do your assigned work because you want to start a mutiny are, I believe, two very different things. To me the first is totally reasonable while the second is asking to be fired. May 18 at 14:36
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    There is a difference between debate and mutiny. There is a difference between refusing to do assigned work and asking for a different assignment. There is also a difference between letting others know and being loud. There are also companies that are run like dictatorships and companies that value their employees. May 18 at 15:24
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This is not your call to make. You are a worker at the company. People above your pay grade make the decisions of who to take as clients. The simple calculation is: This religious institution is a credit to the company's balance sheet (they give your company money); you are a debit on the company's balance sheet (your salary removes money from the company). All other issues aside, given the choice between two irreconcilably conflicting issues, one of which is a debit to the company and one of which is a credit to the company, the company is likely to err on the side of the one which is a credit to the company, which is not good news for you. Put simply, if you fight this too hard, you could wind up losing your job, and that's a decision you have to make if it's worth it to you.

Now, the question is what does "fight too hard" mean? It's company specific, but in general it's a pretty loose definition. One thing that I think is not fighting too hard is to simply go to your manager and tell them basically the thing you said here, that you object to this client's messaging for personal reasons, and ask to be taken off this particular project. The response will likely be one of three things (there are other possibilities but I'd say these are the most likely scenarios): Either your manager will comply and take you off the project, or your manager will say that you have to work on this project because it's your job (with the implied "if you don't like it then find another job"), or, if your company is small enough, they might say that you have to work on it because there's no other staff to do it. Of those 3 alternatives, I'd say the first one is probably the most likely, although the second one is not particularly unlikely.

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    then we should have only clients, and no workers \o/
    – njzk2
    May 17 at 21:05
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    Sarcasm aside, this is exactly how business actually works: Acquire clients and do all the work yourself, until such a time as the number of clients is so large that it's intractable to do the work yourself. Then hire as many people as it takes to make the work tractable again, and rinse-repeat. But the actual implication is that, if OP doesn't want to do the job, there will be someone else who will do the same job and not raise a fuss, if OP makes the situation too abrasive.
    – Ertai87
    May 17 at 21:21
  • Nope, disagree. There are laws that supersede these considerations for employees at any level in a company. If there weren't, it would be impossible to sue for harassment or discrimination in the workplace. May 18 at 1:22
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    " you are a debit on the company's balance sheet (your salary removes money from the company)." That's silly. The client is a liability of their balance sheet (that is, the company owes the client work), and the money the client pays is an asset. The money the company pays the employee is a liability, and the work that the employee does is an asset. Given that OP has not yet been fired, it is reasonable to assume that the company considers OP to be a net asset. " I expect it will not go well for you." If the company is located in, say, SF, then I expect it to go quite well. May 18 at 18:51
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    Hence why SF is weird: Company takes on client, client has some negative things in their background, employee complains, company wants to retain client, employee sues and wins. Logical conclusion: Clients with anything negative in their history are barred from any kind of business dealings, a.k.a. what is commonly referred to as "cancel culture"; any employee at any seniority level who objects to said negative thing can veto any business deal regardless of impact to the company as a whole. Fortunately, most places are not SF.
    – Ertai87
    May 18 at 19:02
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One thing missing from all of the answers I'm seeing so far: couldn't even taking on this project violate your rights as an employee, whether you're homosexual or not?

I am African American. If my company was to take on a client that wanted to distribute literature saying something nasty about African Americans, that would be discriminatory against me. Period end of story. I get that companies are in business to make money, but some things cross a line no matter what the justification, and rights to free speech certainly don't apply in every instance. I'm not a lawyer but I'm pretty sure Title VII comes into play here.

I do think you might have a very good case to make here for the business not taking on this client at all. No one's gonna like it, and yes, this might cause you some problems, but I'm pretty sure you're protected here.

Consider what is said, for instance, here, regarding the rights of employees against harassment by client or customers.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    May 19 at 0:50
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as a business, Can you refuse service to a religious group?

Since my comment got deleted despite being honest, noninflammatory and upvoted... let me make my statement in a slightly different way:

Are you asking if you can refuse service to a protected class (religious) based on another protected class (sexuality)?

I think the answer is within a simplified version of the question: Can you refuse business to a religious group - which happens to be a protected group?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protected_group

U.S. federal law protects individuals from discrimination or harassment based on the following nine protected classes: sex, race, age, disability, color, creed, national origin, religion, or genetic information (added in 2008)

So assuming the "client" has not done any active harassment (IE: insulting you based on your status), then what is your basis for not wanting to work with the "client"? Their religious ties?

Individuals are protected by federal law... are businesses protected?

https://thebusinessprofessor.com/businesses-and-religious-freedom

Do Businesses hold Religious Rights? Aside from the prohibitions on employment practices, common law holds that closely-held corporations may have religious protections similar to those of citizens.

This issue came to the forefront of consideration in the case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., The Court found that the religious beliefs of owners of the closely-held entity were sufficiently tied to the religious beliefs of the owners to be susceptible to protection under the 1st Amendment.

So far, you are asking if you can refuse service to a business because of their religious ties.

I think the answer is in the question and the answer is a resounding no.

At YOUR company, the decision seems to be already made: They have accepted the contract and the work is coming to the company.

as an individual, Can you refuse to work with someone because of religion

I'd say that's a personal choice and one you have to process as an individual and as an employee.

At the personal and employee level, I think you have a few options:

  • You can work with them until they discriminate against you. Then you have a case to bring.
  • You can work with your boss to be placed on other projects (if possible to be placed on other projects).
  • You can state your beliefs and leave/be let go for refusing to work (if not possible to be placed on other projects).
  • (middle ground: you could find yourself with limited hours because "other work" is limited - no idea of how big/small/important/transient this client is)
  • You can work with other employees to "encourage" your company to fire them as a company (interesting route if you fire a company because of their religion... should be an interesting lawsuit.)
  • You can work with the client and push to have "warning" labels applied where applicable (kinda like facebook warnings)
  • insert many other variations between options above and other inventive solutions here - there are more options than just "my way or the highway" and my above list isn't all-inclusive as far as options

my opinion: fighting intolerance (real or perceived) with intolerance (refusing to work with another protected class) is a losing battle. Not all religious people are bad - just like not all people in "your group" (whatever that may be) are good. It's your life and there are more jobs out there if its THAT important to you - but I doubt you'll find many companies willing to actively discriminate against protected classes.

And, think of all the good that can be done when you work with people you despise to turn hearts and minds:

https://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes

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  • There is a difference between being religious and holding that homosexuality is a sin. You can't come along and say, "I believe in the words of my lord and savior Krampus Pothwait and he says people with green eyes are inferior and I have a right to my religion!" and expect to be protected as such, since your belief in your religion infringes on the rights of others, and then the First Amendment, etc. etc. May 18 at 5:14
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    @DaveKanter Actually, I can say I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster and that he thinks Short People are bad because they don't hold enough theatens. My religious rights are very much protected. Holding those beliefs don't infringe on your right to be short. You are offended because you don't believe in thetans? to bad... I still have the right to believe what I believe. AND - as per this conversation - I have the right to not be discriminated against by YOU because of my religion. You don't get to be intolerant of me because you're offended. As per Hobby Lobby via SCOTUS.
    – WernerCD
    May 18 at 5:45
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    On your penultimate paragraph; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance
    – Clumsy cat
    May 18 at 12:25
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    @WernerCD we're way off topic here but you raise some interesting points to which I respond: 1) not all religious groups hold that homosexuality is a sin and 2) where do you draw the line? We're ok with homosexuality, but black people are inferior? Comes a point where it stops being about religious freedom. May 18 at 16:11
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    The OP is not discriminating against them based on their religion, OP is discriminating against them based on their bigotry. The idea that if one's bigotry is religiously motivated, then discriminating against it is religious discrimination, is a BS argument. If you are motivated by your religious views to punch someone, is prosecuting you for assault "religious discrimination"? May 18 at 18:56
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How can I (legally) avoid having to work on projects involved with that client?

You tell your employer that you will not work on projects involved with that client. They may fire you, but they can fire you even if you don't refuse to work on projects involved with that client. Really, the only repercussion for you is that your employer might claim your termination was for cause rather than not for cause.

Is the company obligated to accept contracts from such customers, or can it turn them away?

Your company can turn away customers if they are unhappy with their political stances or product messages. Companies do this all the time. Apple refusing to do business with Parler and Cloudflare refusing to do business with 8Chan are examples. However, they may not wish to turn away customers if they need customers.

You can always resort to publicly shaming your employer. But that's much more likely to lead to termination if you aren't part of a union or similarly protected.

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  • The reason Apple gave for removing Parler from the App store was Parler not following the terms of service, to wit Parler not taking action, from Apple's point of view at least, against such issues as hate speech. I suppose hate speech can technically be considered a "political stance", but that's stretching things. May 18 at 18:53
  • @Acccumulation What is or isn't hate speech and what the appropriate response is to hate speech is definitely a political stance. There is currently an ongoing political debate about whether governments should intervene in various ways to deal with the control that large corporations have exerted over the speech of individuals and small companies. This is absolutely a political issue. Cloudflare decided they didn't like 8chan's speech content and cut off service to them. May 18 at 18:54
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How can I (legally) avoid having to work on projects involved with that client?

While I am not a member of the LGBTQ community, I dont condemn the folks who do identify with this community as there is no need to. If I was in your shoes, I would feel a bit uncomfortable too. Live and let live.

I would recommend you have a talk with your manager and express your discomfort with working with this customer. If they push you to say why, try to keep it general to something like how you dont feel like you are good fit for this particular customer, and how the customer can be better served by someone else. Do not make it personal, but rather focus on the detriment to customer service.

Be aware though, if your company if a public governmental entity, the options may be a lot more limited as any negative action toward this customer could constitute religious discrimination, running afoul of the 1st amendment on freedom of religion, for or against. There have been federal court cases all the way up to SCOTUS, of discriminatory conduct based on freedom of speech or religion a handful have been successful.

If your employer is private, AFAIK they do not have to serve this particular customer. As contracts are entered into voluntarily, your employer is free to choose who it will or won't do business with. While businesses are free to serve customers that may be disagreeable to some, potential business partners are also free to boycott and find other vendors on the free market, as the market should work.

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    "don't feel like you are a good fit", "better served by someone else" -- this says nothing, it's just corporate HR-speak. You can't refuse to work on a project for no reason! Just say you are unhappy with their poisonous stance on homosexuality.
    – TonyK
    May 18 at 13:30

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