Fourth Circuit Upholds Employer-Favorable Religious Discrimination Decision

by Poyner Spruill LLP
Contact

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed summary judgment in favor of an employer that was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for religious discrimination. In EEOC v. Thompson Contracting, Grading, Paving, and Utilities, Inc., No. 11-1897, the EEOC sued the company for failing to accommodate a request to not work Saturdays made by an employee who alleged he followed the Hebrew Israelite faith. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled the company did not violate its Title VII obligations and granted summary judgment for the employer. The Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed the ruling.

Thompson Contracting provided grading, paving, and utility services for transportation projects in eastern North Carolina. It normally operated Monday through Friday, but it sometimes needed its workers to work Saturdays to make up for weather and other project delays. The company normally had eight vehicles whose drivers required a commercial driver’s license, including dump trucks. The company frequently used independent contractor dump trucks for large projects.

Banayah Yisrael was employed as a dump truck driver and objected to working Saturdays because that was his religious Sabbath. Mr. Yisrael was asked to work Saturdays on several occasions. On the first occasion, all of the company’s employee dump truck drivers were scheduled to work Saturday, but no independent contractors were used. Mr. Yisrael did not come to work but was not disciplined. Several weeks later, Mr. Yisrael was again instructed to work Saturday, but he refused. On this occasion, all other dump truck driver employees worked Saturday, and the company also used 13 independent contractor drivers. Mr. Yisrael did not come to work, but he was written up for his absence and told the next infraction would result in termination.

On Friday, February 11, 2005, Mr. Yisrael was asked to work the following Saturday. All employee drivers other than Mr. Yisrael worked Saturday, and the company also used 12 independent contractor drivers. Mr. Yisrael failed to show up for work, and, anticipating his firing, filed an EEOC Charge of Discrimination the following Monday. Thompson Contracting terminated his employment for failing to come to work as scheduled. After the conclusion of the EEOC Charge process, the EEOC sued Thompson Contracting for failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for Mr. Yisrael’s religious beliefs.

The EEOC proposed three possible accommodations Thompson Contracting could have made. The District Court rejected all three as placing an undue burden on the company, and the Court of Appeals agreed. First, the EEOC argued Thompson Contracting could operate without Yisrael on Saturdays. The court rejected this argument because if Yisrael was not at work the company would be forced to use independent contractors, make other employees do his work, or not have the work done at all. The EEOC next argued Thompson Contracting should have provided substitute drivers to cover for Yisrael’s absences. The court held that hiring a pool of substitute drivers or incurring the costs to train existing employees to drive dump trucks was an undue burden. Finally, Thompson Contracting was not required to offer Yisrael a transfer to a different position because it reasonably believed he would refuse any such transfer option.

The EEOC v. Thompson Contracting case is an important win for employers. It clarifies that an employee’s right to avoid working on his or her Sabbath is not absolute, and an employer can demand such work when any possible accommodation would pose an undue burden on the employer. The case also provides specific examples of the types of accommodations that may not be reasonable depending on the facts of each case. Employers faced with religious accommodation requests should consult with employment counsel to determine if the requested accommodations present an undue burden and need not be made.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Poyner Spruill LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Poyner Spruill LLP
Contact
more
less

Poyner Spruill LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.