The phrase, "Have a blessed day," rolls off Liz Anderson's tongue easily and frequently.
The devout Christian and grandmother uses the phrase on the phone, at the grocery store, and even to co-workers and customers at the Indianapolis office of USF Logistics, a freight shipping company where she has worked since 1995.
Having been raised a Southern Baptist, Anderson regards praising the Lord as part of her African-American culture, and she makes a point of pushing forth that message while communicating to customers via phone and email.
"This is part of my relationship with God," she said. "Some people say, 'Be blessed.' Some people say, 'God be with you.' God has been good to me, so I want to praise his name in holy victory."
But when a client from Microsoft received a company e-mail from Anderson with her signature phrase attached, he complained. Anderson was then told by her boss to stop using the saying in company letters and e-mail, but she refused.
When she was told she could be fired, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging that USF Logistics discriminated against her by forbidding her to observe her faith in the workplace. Both parties are waiting for a ruling.
"With Microsoft being our customer, I guess everybody wanted to bow down to them," Anderson said. "But I bow down to nobody but the Lord."
A spokesperson from Microsoft admitted later that the employee who complained probably overreacted. But Brad Christiansen, president of USF Logistics, said the complaint helped alert the company to the fact that Anderson was violating corporate policy.
"We believe we have a right to control what goes into business correspondence, on company letterhead," he said. "'Have a blessed day' may be reasonably innocuous, but you have to act equally regardless of the statements. What if someone wanted to put, 'Go George Bush,' on company letterhead?"
USF Logistics, which employs some 3,700 people, has never faced a religious discrimination claim until now, and wants guidance from the EEOC, Christiansen said. Yet, Anderson's complaint is just one of the 1,811 religious discrimination charges filed with the EEOC in 1999. The number marks a 30 percent increase of such complaints since 1992.
The upward trend reflects the growing religious diversity of the country's workforce. And because Americans are devoting more time at offices and factories than ever before, many are demanding more freedom on the job.
Religious discrimination is illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but many employers still don't know what's acceptable and what's not.
In 1997, President Clinton issued guidelines for federal employers on handling religious expressions in the workplace. The basic idea is that companies must make "reasonable" accommodations for religious expression as long as it does not create an "undue hardship" on the employer.
While the rules are for federal employers, many private companies have taken the cue and adopted similar policies.
Most of the EEOC's religious discrimination claims are filed by employees who say their employers don't allow them to observe their religion on the job.
For instance, the agency recently settled cases involving a security company that refused to let an Islamic employee wear his religious headdress. In another case, a Burger King franchise wouldn't let an Apostolic women wear a skirt, as mandated by her faith, instead of the regulation pants.
In both cases, the EEOC sided with the employees, ruling that the companies didn't make reasonable efforts to accommodate to the religious faith of their workers.
"I see a trend towards an increase in requiring employers to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of their employees," said Jeff Tanenbaum, an attorney specializing in employment law. "There is a greater willingness of the courts to expand the definition of religion and what could constitute a religious activity."
But a growing number of managers and employees also have been complaining of religious co-workers proselytizing to them, an action some say contributes to "a hostile work environment."
"We've always seen some level of those cases," Tanenbaum said. "Now we see more of them."
In a 1997 survey asking human resource managers what the most common religious-related problems in the workplace were, some 20 percent said it was employees proselytizing coworkers, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Only nine percent said they had a problem with the devout refusing duties because of religious beliefs.
"At what point does someone's expression of their religion start creating a hostile work environment for someone else," said Jonathan Levy, a California attorney with the organization Fair Measures, an organization that teaches companies how to avoid lawsuits. "Like a lot of employment law, it is one of those areas where there is not a lot of guidance."
For instance, would most find it offensive if a co-worker wore an anti-abortion button with a picture of a dead fetus?
An employee at US West, who claimed she was "a living witness," wore such a button to work every day, even though other employees claimed the picture made them sick and disrupted their work.
The women eventually was fired for refusing to remove the button or the picture. In a subsequent legal battle, an appeals court said the graphic picture was a disruption, and that US West was within its rights to fire her.
In another case, a police dispatcher in Indiana won a lawsuit, claiming she was unlawfully fired by her boss, a born-again Christian. She said her boss grilled her about her spiritual beliefs, asked her if she went to church, and told her she would be out of a job if she didn't "follow God's way." When she asked him to stop the proselytizing, she was fired.
In Anderson's case, Christiansen believes the company accommodated to her religious beliefs, but she stepped beyond acceptable boundaries. For instance, the company never stopped her from filling her office space with religious decorations, nor have they ever asked her to stop saying, "Have a blessed day," around the office.
But when it came to addressing clients, Christiansen believes Anderson went too far.
"If you are speaking on behalf of an organization, you shouldn't bring your own views into that," he said.
Nevertheless, Anderson, who still works at USF Logistics, said she won't agree to a settlement requiring her to stop using her beloved phrase.
"I could not sign anything to say I would not glorify the Lord," she said. "It doesn't matter how the case comes out. I stay focused on what the word says, and I stay focused on the fact that I was probably being tested by Satan and I wasn't going to let the manager steal my joy from the Lord."