Reasonable Accommodations For Employees Religious Practices A Tricky Question
Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) August 12, 2013 - While making accommodations for worker's religious beliefs, there is a limit in how far an employer is expected to go.
“This Illinois discrimination case tested the limits of what an employer is required to do regarding worker's religious beliefs and how they affect the workplace,” indicated Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.
The plaintiff in this case was a 29-year-old Muslim, who held her teaching job until December 2007. In August of the same year, she told her employer she wanted three weeks unpaid leave to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca; the traditional Hajj. The timing of the pilgrimage was just before her student's final exams and her unpaid leave was denied. The teacher resigned and filed a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC ruled in the plaintiff's favor and it went forward to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ indicated the denial of her request was a direct violation of Title Seven of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It prohibits an employer discriminating against an employee on the basis of sex, national origin, race, color or religion. The Department then filed a lawsuit against the School Board.
“Interestingly enough, one DOJ lawyer in the Civil Rights Division was heard to say that the department was going overboard by using its legal clout to push extreme cultural views that ordinary Joe American did not agree with,” indicated Coffey.
There is substantial case law to support the plaintiff's case, and federal rules do mandate than an employer must offer reasonable accommodations for religious practices, unless it would result in excessive adversity for them in trying to conduct business. The key case that dealt with that issue was Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977). The court's decision was inordinate hardship existed if the employer had to shoulder more than a minimal cost to be accommodating.
At trial, the plaintiff argued that she had asked for unpaid leave and therefore she would not be creating any economic hardship. However, the key issue was whether or not the definition of hardship included her three week absence, causing staffing issues to arise at a cost to the employer. “The vitally important point raised by this case is when does making special accommodations for religious cultural events become an exception for the impact it has on an employer? How does it apply across the board to other groups?” said Coffey.
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com
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Chicago, IL 60654
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