The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin recently addressed an employer's responsibilities to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs. In EEOC v. Walmart Stores East, LP, the court examined whether Walmart was required to accommodate a candidate for an assistant manager position who informed Walmart—after he received his offer—that he could not work on Saturdays due to his religion. Walmart ultimately withdrew the offer of employment, but offered the employee the opportunity to seek a non-management position as well as the assistance of human resources in his job search. The employee refused Walmart's offer and asserted claims of religious discrimination and retaliation under Title VII.
Title VII prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that could be accommodated without undue hardship.
The district court granted Walmart's motion for summary judgment, finding that, although there was no dispute that the candidate requested a religious accommodation, the court agreed that Walmart had offered the candidate a reasonable accommodation, and that accommodating the request would have resulted in undue hardship for Walmart.
The particular store in question was a 24-hour Walmart that employed one store manager and eight assistant managers. The assistant managers were expected to work on weekends due to staffing shortages and the need for additional staff on busy weekend days. Importantly, Walmart did not reject the request for an accommodation out-of-hand; rather, Walmart evaluated whether there was any way to accommodate the employee's request for Saturdays off. The new candidate, as a new employee, had not yet accrued any PTO, and therefore, the use of PTO was not an available option. Further, swapping shifts with another assistant manager would require another employee giving up her Saturday off, and as such, was not a reasonable option.
Additionally, Walmart established that accommodating the candidate's request would have resulted in undue hardship. Undue hardship exists when a religious accommodation would cause more than minimal hardship to the employer or other employees. Walmart was not required to make a permanent shift assignment for this candidate when other assistant managers were not given the same benefit. The court reasoned that "Title VII does not require employers to deny the shift preferences of some employees in order to favor the religious needs of others." In other words, the employer was not obligated to award a more favorable schedule to this job candidate for religious reasons when others also have strong reasons for not wanting to work on weekend days, regardless of whether those reasons had anything to do with their religion.The district court held that Walmart's offer to allow the candidate to seek a non-exempt hourly position was a reasonable accommodation, even though the position would not pay as much as the assistant manager position. A reasonable accommodation is one that eliminates the conflict between employment requirements and religious practices. In this case, it was irrelevant that the hourly positions did not pay as much as the assistant manager position. The district court found that the accommodation would have allowed the job candidate to have Saturday off.
This case is instructive to employers faced with a request for religious accommodation. Walmart evaluated the requirements of the position, the staffing levels at the store, the ability to grant an accommodation to meet the job candidate's needs, and concluded there was no way to accommodate the request without creating an undue hardship on the employer's operations.
Employers should reference the EEOC's guidance on Best Practices for Eradicating Religious Discrimination in the Workplace to ensure that reasonable accommodations are followed and undue hardship is properly assessed.