A Blueprint to Providing an Employee With a Religious Accommodation
Posted: March 15, 2018
On March 9, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (Florida, et al) decided a case for a Seventh Day Adventist who made claims against his employer for religious discrimination, failure to accommodate religious practices, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).
Darrell Patterson was a customer care representative who is a Seventh Day Adventist. As a Seventh Day Adventist, his religious beliefs prohibit him from working during his Sabbath, which occurs from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The plaintiff communicated as much to the defendant-employer, which initially accommodated his request.
Over time, however, Patterson received a promotion into a position that often required him to work on Saturday. Still, the defendant did what it could to accommodate Patterson's religious beliefs. For example, Patterson's supervisor agreed to schedule regular training classes between Sunday and Thursday. Additionally, on those occasions when business needs required emergency Saturday training, the plaintiff's supervisor allowed him to swap shifts with other employees.
However, there were times when, despite the employer's best efforts to accommodate the plaintiff, Walgreens needed Patterson to come in on Saturday. However, Patterson refused. That resulted in progressive discipline.
Stubbornness is a bad look for the plaintiff.
In 2011, there arose another Saturday training emergency. Patterson's supervisor told him that, if he could not come in, he would have to find coverage. Although Patterson admitted that there were others available to fill in for him, he did not contact them. Consequently, the training got delayed.
The following week, the plaintiff met with human resources and his supervisor. Human resources suggested that the plaintiff may want to return to his prior position or look for another job within the organization. In response, Patterson inquired if Walgreens would guarantee that he would not have to work during his Sabbath. The defendant could not.
Because of his refusal to ever work on his Sabbath and his refusal to look for another position that would make it more likely that his unavailability could be accommodated, the defendant suspended and then terminated Patterson's employment a couple of days later. The defendant concluded that it could not rely on the plaintiff if an urgent business need arose that required emergency training on a Friday night or a Saturday.
So, the plaintiff sued (case) and alleged that the defendant failed to accommodate his sincerely-held religious beliefs.
To comply with Title VII, an employer is not required to offer a choice of several accommodations or to prove that the employee's proposed accommodation would pose an undue hardship; instead, the employer must show only that the employee was offered a reasonable accommodation, regardless of whether that accommodation is one which the employee suggested. [...] The other side of the equation is that the employee has a duty to make a good faith attempt to accommodate his religious needs through means offered by the employer.
The undisputed facts show that Walgreens offered Patterson reasonable accommodations that he either failed to take advantage of or refused to consider, and that the accommodation he insisted on would have posed an undue hardship to Walgreens. Walgreens shifted the regular training schedule to Sunday through Thursday for Patterson. That minimized conflicts. For unusual training sessions that were conducted on his Sabbath, Walgreens allowed Patterson to find other employees to cover his shifts, and he did so on several occasions. Patterson conceded that his supervisor had never refused one of his requests to swap a Sabbath shift with a willing employee.
Summary judgment for the defendant.
- Unlike accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — where the undue burden bar is set very high — it does not take much for an employer to demonstrate that a religious accommodation will create an undue hardship, which is anything more than a minimal cost.
- Notwithstanding that undue hardship is relatively easy to establish, any employer should engage in a good-faith, interactive dialogue to see what, if anything, the company can do to accommodate an employee's sincerely-held religious beliefs.
- That said, the employee needs to meet the employer halfway (at least). Often, whichever side adopts the "my way or the highway" approach ends up the loser in litigation.
Posted In: Reasonable Accommodation; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII); Quit, Resigned, Termination of Employment, etc.
Want to know more? Read the full article by Eric B. Meyer at The Employer Handbook