Seventh Circuit: Employee Not Entitled to Preferred Religious Accommodation Under Title VII

by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
Contact

On November 8, 2012, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Christian employee who objected to working on Sundays because it conflicted with her church attendance lacked a religious discrimination claim under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because her employer offered her a reasonable accommodation of working a different shift. Porter v. City of Chicago, No. 11-2006 (7th Cir. Nov. 8, 2012). (The Seventh Circuit is the federal appellate court that entertains appeals from federal cases originating in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.)

Porter’s Accommodation Request

Latice Porter had been employed by the City of Chicago (the City) in the Field Services Section (FSS) of the Records Services Division of the Chicago Police Department since 1991. The FSS received and responded to information requests from police personnel and other law enforcement agencies. Since January 2001, Porter had been a Senior Data Entry Specialist and had been most recently assigned to the “auto desk” where employees process information in various electronic databases about towed, stolen, repossessed, or recovered vehicles.

The FSS operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is divided into three shifts or “watches.” FSS employees also were assigned to groups for days off, with certain employees assigned to Fridays and Saturdays off while others were assigned to Saturdays and Sundays off.

Porter identified herself as a Christian and stated that she attended church services, bible studies, and prayer services at the Apostolic Church of God. Sunday church services were held at 9:00 a.m., 11:45 a.m., and sometimes 4:00 p.m. At times, Porter also attended services on Friday nights, Wednesday night bible studies, and prayer services on Tuesdays.

In 2005, Porter was assigned Sundays and Mondays as her days off. In October 2005, Porter took a medical leave due to a car accident and pregnancy complications. Following her return from leave, the City assigned her to the Friday/Saturday days-off group due to “operational needs” and to “balance the workforce” because there were more employees in the Sunday/Monday days-off group than there were in the Friday/Saturday group.

After receiving her assignment, Porter requested that the City reassign her to the Sunday/Monday days-off group because of her church involvement. She submitted a Request for Change of Job Assignment Form asking for a change to the Sunday/Monday days-off group.

The City advised Porter that her request would be accommodated when an opening became available in the Sunday/Monday days-off group. It also sought volunteers to switch days off with Porter, but no one volunteered. Finally, the City also suggested to Porter the option of going to the second “watch” from 3:00 to 11:00 p.m. on Sundays. Porter did not follow up with the City about this option.

Between the time when Porter returned to the FSS on July 16, 2006, and November 12, 2006, Porter was absent on some or all of 34 days, 16 of which were on Sundays. On November 14, 2006, Porter requested medical leave and did not return to the FSS.

Porter filed suit alleging that the City violated Title VII by, among other actions, failing to accommodate her religious practices. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City, and Porter appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

Was Porter’s Religious Practice Reasonably Accommodated?

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit reiterated that the reasonable accommodation requirement under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is meant “to assure the individual additional opportunities to observe religious practices, but it [does] not impose a duty on the employer to accommodate at all costs.” It also reiterated that a reasonable accommodation under Title VII is “one that ‘eliminates the conflict between employment requirements and religious practices.’” Thus, when an employer offers an alternative that “reasonably accommodates the employee’s religious needs . . . ‘the statutory inquiry is at an end [.]’”

As to Porter’s claim, the court concluded that the City reasonably accommodated Porter’s religious practice by suggesting a change to a later watch. Because Porter sought to attend church services on Sunday mornings, the court stated, the “change in Porter’s schedule would have eliminated the conflict between her work schedule and her religious practice, and there is no evidence that this change would have impacted Porter’s pay or benefits in any way.”

In dealing with Porter’s claim that she did not want to work the later watch, the court responded that “it is well settled that ‘Title VII . . . requires only reasonable accommodation, not satisfaction of an employee’s every desire.’” Thus, the fact that Porter simply did not want to work the later watch did not make the proposed accommodation unreasonable.

Porter also claimed that the City’s mere suggestion of the option of working a later watch was not sufficient to meet the City’s reasonable accommodation burden under Title VII. In rejecting this argument, the court acknowledged that it has encouraged “bilateral cooperation” between the employee and employer and recognized that employers must engage in a dialogue with an employee seeking accommodation. It further elaborated, however, that it has not demanded “the hand-holding Porter argues was lacking here.” Because the court could not find fault with the City for failing to take further steps to change Porter’s watch, it concluded that the City discharged its obligation under Title VII by offering Porter an accommodation that would have eliminated the conflict between her work schedule and her religious practice of attending church services on Sunday mornings.

Importance of the “Bilateral Dialogue” Under Title VII

Like the “interactive process” required of employers and employees for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Seventh Circuit encourages a “bilateral dialogue” between employer and employee for religious accommodations under Title VII. As the Porter case re-emphasizes, however, the employer need not provide the accommodation the employee desires or which is most beneficial to the employee. Rather, the goal for an employer must always be to provide a reasonable accommodation that eliminates a conflict between employment requirements and the employee’s religious practices.

Brian L. McDermott is a shareholder in the Indianapolis, Indiana office of Ogletree Deakins.

 

Written by:

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
Contact
more
less

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, 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):
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.