Psychology, Department of


Religion at Work: Evaluating Hostile Work Environment Religious Discrimination Claims

Jason A. Cantone, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Document Type Article

A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College of the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Psychology, Under the Supervision of Professor Richard L. Wiener. Lincoln, Nebraska: August 3, 2011

Copyright 2011. Jason A. Cantone. All Rights Reserved.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from discriminating against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Impressive bodies of research have investigated sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace. Few studies address religious discrimination in the workplace, though claims have increased more than 200 percent in the last decade. This research investigated how social psychological theories can help explain perceptions of religious discrimination claims, particularly claims of a hostile work environment based upon religion. Study 1 manipulated participants’ focus and similarity between the participant and complainant for cases involving the victim’s religion (Jewish or Muslim employees facing harassment). Study 2 focused on the harasser’s religion (Evangelical Christian or Mormon supervisors proselytizing at work). Across the studies, self-referenced legal judgments (how you would feel if you were the victim) predicted the objective, reasonable person legal judgments. Self-referencing theory and similarity between the participant and complainant affected the outcome variables (likelihood of discrimination and likelihood of a hostile work environment). In-group/out-group perceptions affected both the outcome variables and also the process variables (the prima facie requirements for a valid claim: unwelcomeness, religious causality, severity, pervasiveness), providing support for Social Identity Theory. These findings were particularly strong in Study 2 when both the participants and harassers were Evangelical Christian, a situation with heightened similarity and in-group status. Overall, self-referencing theory helps predict whether discrimination occurred, while social identity theory also affects the legal decision making process.