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Religious Discrimination: What Does Reasonable Accommodation Mean?

Published By | Feb 23, 2022 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Retaliation, Wrongful Termination |

Best Employment Law Attorneys Answers: Can my employer make me work during Church? Does my company have to schedule around my religious observation requirements? Is time off a reasonable religious accommodation?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from adverse employment actions on the basis of religion. (Best Law Read: What Is An Adverse Employment Action?).

Specifically, Title VII provides at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a):

  1. It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer —
  2. to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s … religion[.]

Under Title VII, employees typically have four different ways to assert religious discrimination: wrongful termination, disparate treatment, hostile work environment, and failure to accommodate. (Best Law Read: What Is Disparate Treatment?; Can Unequal Progressive Discipline Prove Discrimination?; What Is A Hostile Work Environment?). Additionally, Title VII has an anti-retaliation provision that would give an employee a claim for reporting or opposing religious discrimination. (Best Law Read: Can I Be Fired For Reporting Discrimination To HR?).

For today’s employment law blog, I’m focusing on the religious accommodation protections under Title VII even though our employment discrimination lawyers have touched on this before. In this context, Title VII defines religion to include all aspects of religious observance and practice. In order to establish the initial elements for a failure to accommodate religious discrimination claim, “the employee must show that he or she: (1) holds a sincere religious belief that conflicts with a job requirement; (2) informed the employer of the conflict; and (3) was disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting requirement.” Once the employee present evidence on each of these elements, the burden shifts to the employer to present evidence that it either made a good-faith effort to reasonably accommodate the employee’s religious belief, or such an accommodation would create an undue hardship for the employer.

Title VII does not explicitly define a “reasonable accommodation” should be based on religion. However, the standard imposed on employers for a religious accommodation is not as demanding as the accommodation of a disability required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The object under Title VII is to “eliminate[ ] the conflict between employment requirements and religious practices,” but does “did not impose a duty on the employer to accommodate at all costs.” Ansonia Bd. of Educ. v. Philbrook, 479 U.S. 60, 70, 107 S.Ct. 367, 93 L.Ed.2d 305 (1986). To that end, the employee must also be reasonable in finding an accommodation. Indeed, if the employer proposed what the Court later deems is a reasonable accommodation, the employee cannot refuse it in favor of demanding a different accommodation, even if the employee’s accommodation request is also reasonable.

Furthermore, in a religious accommodation case, the employer can show an “undue hardship” based on economic costs, damage to employee morale, or violation of a collective bargaining agreement or seniority system. However, the undue hardship analysis may not be based on mere speculation or conjecture.

There are a lot of variables that come into play. For example, it may not be an undue hardship for a company with 500 interchangeable workers to give an employee certain holidays or days of observance off, but it may be a hardship for a business that only has three people in that position or must schedule pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. Paid time off probably would not be a reasonable accommodation, but in Ansonia Bd. of Educ. v. Philbrook, 479 U.S. 60, 71, 107 S. Ct. 367, 373, 93 L. Ed. 2d 305 (1986), the United States Supreme Court held:

But unpaid leave is not a reasonable accommodation when paid leave is provided for all purposes except religious ones. A provision for paid leave “that is part and parcel of the employment relationship may not be doled out in a discriminatory fashion, even if the employer would be free … not to provide the benefit at all.” Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 75, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 2233–2234, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984). Such an arrangement would display a discrimination against religious practices that is the antithesis of reasonableness.

Given all of the variables, there are two important takeaways. First, the best thing that you could do is find the top employment lawyers to give you advice. This is not something that you should be trying to figure out on your own.

Second, because of the risks faced by both sides, most of these cases will settle at some point.

Take for example, the recent lawsuit filed by a driver that worked for Tampa Bay Delivery Service, LLC, an Amazon delivery service provider. According to the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the employee’s previous request to take off Sundays to attend church services had been granted. However, do to staffing shortages, the Tampa Bay Delivery Service scheduled the employee for a Sunday shift. The employee reminded the dispatcher that he could not work on Sundays due to his religion. The employee was told that it could not accommodate that particular Sunday. When the employee failed to show up as scheduled, the employer fired him.

Was it a reasonable accommodation to give the employee almost all Sundays off as long as there was not a staff shortage? Quite possibly. Would it have been an undue hardship to leave the employer even more short drivers and be unable to fulfill its delivery obligations to Amazon, and in turn risk losing the contract? Quite possibly. Could a judge or a jury still find this to be a wrongful termination? Yep. Because no one can be certain, the case settled for $50,000.

If you feel that you are being discriminated, harassed, or not getting a reasonable accommodation for based on your religion or religious beliefs or that you were wrongfully terminated because of you are Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, Catholic, or any other religion, the best course of action you can take is to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, you will meet with a religious discrimination attorney, who will be able to tell you what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Call our top attorneys in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Youngstown, Cincinnati and Detroit.

Disclaimer:

The materials available at the top of this religious discrimination blog and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I get a religious accommodation to the dress code”, “What should I do to get the Sabbath off of work?,” “Can my boss discriminate against me because I’m (Jewish/Muslim/Mormon/Hindu)?” or “I was fired for my religious beliefs.” The answer to “What can I do?”, is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular religious discrimination or other employment law issue or problem. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.