EEOC Launches Test Case on Religious Discrimination
Most employers are aware that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of “religion.” Courts have broadly construed the term “religion” to mean most sincerely held beliefs, including atheism. The law is clear that employers are to not discriminate on the basis of “religion” and must, when possible, reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious belief, practice or observance.
Disputes concerning the duty to reasonably accommodate an employee’s observance are not litigated very often because, in most instances, employers and employees can resolve these matters internally. From time to time, however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) will file suit over such matters as part of its enforcement obligations under Title VII. In some instances, the EEOC can follow the filing of the suit with a press release on the EEOC’s website in an apparent effort to increase public awareness of an employer’s responsibility under Title VII.
Late last week, the EEOC launched a federal lawsuit against United Cellular, Inc., and coupled the filing of the suit with a press release which identified the employer. According to the EEOC’s press release, the lawsuit alleges that United Cellular did not reasonably accommodate an employee’s request to not be scheduled to work on his Sabbath (sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday). The EEOC release claims that the employee is a Seventh Day Adventist, was scheduled to work on weekends and was subsequently discharged.
No doubt, commentators will track the course of this litigation and any determination as to whether United Cellular would be required, under Title VII, to reasonably accommodate the employee’s scheduling request given the nature of the employee’s job (service center technician) and the service demands that could reasonably be expected in that industry. The EEOC’s press release, and additional details about this lawsuit, can be found here: http://eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/7-18-13a.cfm