Secret to Reasonable Accommodations for Religion: Be Reasonable

by Franczek Radelet P.C.

If there is a secret to avoiding or, if necessary, winning lawsuits involving employee requests for religious accommodations, it is this: be reasonable. Two recent federal appeals court rulings highlight this seemingly obvious but sometimes elusive point.

In Telfair v. Federal Express Corporation, Garrett and Traivs Telfair, FedEx employees who also happened to be practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses, were told that their work schedule would be changed from Monday through Friday to Tuesday through Saturday. That schedule conflicted with the Telfairs’ religious observances. The Telfairs were given the option of accepting the new schedule or taking 90 days’ leave in which to apply for alternative positions within FedEx. They offered to work Tuesday through Friday. FedEx denied that request, but offered them “Handler” positions with a Monday to Friday schedule albeit at a lower pay rate. The Telfairs declined that offer, and also did not apply for any of the 53 other positions with FedEx that were open in their region. After their employment was terminated, the Telfairs sued, alleging that FedEx violated Title VII by failing to accommodate their request not to work on Saturdays. Rejecting their claim, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that FedEx satisfied its obligation to accommodate the Telfairs’ religious observances by allowing them to apply for other positions and offering them a position with a Monday through Friday schedule.

In Fields v. City of Tulsa, the court considered a police officer’s right to refuse an order based upon religious grounds. Paul Fields, a captain in the Tulsa Police Department, was ordered by his superiors to either attend or arrange for other officers to attend an open house event hosted by a local mosque to thank the police department for protecting the mosque after a threat was made against it. Although the officers were invited to observe religious services and to informational programs about Islam, those events were optional and the order was crafted so as to ensure that no officers were required to be at the mosque during religious services. Nevertheless, Fields objected to the order and refused to comply despite direct instructions from his superiors. He was subsequently disciplined. Rejecting Fields’ claims under the First Amendment, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the Police Department had participated in approximately 3,500 community events between 2004 and 2011, including more than 350 held at or sponsored by religious venues or institutions. The Court observed that the event was squarely in line with the Department’s community policing initiative, and that failure to attend the event “would have treated the Islamic community differently from other religious organizations.” Further, the department crafted its order to avoid any conflict with Fields’ or other officers’ religious convictions by ensuring that officers would not be required to participate in religious services or similar events.

While these are obviously very different cases, they have a core similarity in that both involve employers that made reasonable efforts to accommodate their employees’ religious convictions, and employees who rejected those efforts without any apparent attempt to find a reasonable resolution.

Lessons for Employers:

  • Religion is not a free pass for employees to disregard orders or refuse assignments.
  • As with disability accommodation cases, courts often resolve religious accommodation cases by examining who was responsible for the breakdown in communication about possible accommodations.
  • Consequently, when an employee requests a religious accommodation, the employer should engage with the employee to try to find a reasonable solution that eliminates the conflict with the employee’s religion.
  • If an employee has rejected various proposed accommodations that would resolve the religious conflict, an employer can usually be reasonably confident that its position will be upheld if challenged.
  • However, employers should remain cautious of derivative claims, such as allegations of discrimination or retaliation following an accommodation request.  

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.

© Franczek Radelet P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Franczek Radelet P.C.

Franczek Radelet P.C. 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.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

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.


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 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:

- 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.