Applying the Supreme Court’s longstanding rule that Title VII requires employers to accommodate religious practices unless doing so would impose more than a “slight burden,” the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Seventh Day Adventist’s claim that Walmart wrongfully refused to accommodate his inability to work on Saturdays in EEOC v. Walmart Stores East, L.P., No. 20-1419 (7th Cir. Mar. 31, 2021).
The plaintiff in the case applied for—and was offered—a full-time assistant manager position at the always-open Walmart in Hayward, Wisconsin. After receiving the job offer, the plaintiff informed the store’s HR manager that, due to his religious practices, he could not work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday. This presented a problem, because the store’s eight assistant managers were expected to cover the weekends on a rotating basis, working most weekends. Accommodating the plaintiff would have required either hiring an additional assistant manager or leaving the store shorthanded during the busiest hours of the week. The HR manager suggested the plaintiff consider a lower-level manager position that did not require Saturday work, but he declined, choosing instead to sue Walmart for religious discrimination.
On behalf of the plaintiff, the EEOC argued Walmart should have hired the plaintiff and given him a permanent schedule that never included Friday nights or Saturdays, or else required the other assistant managers to trade shifts with him and work additional weekend shifts. Writing for the majority, Judge Easterbrook rejected these proposals because they would shift to burden of accommodating the plaintiff’s religious observance onto his colleagues. Moreover, the EEOC’s approach would require Walmart to bear more than a “slight burden,” which is beyond what Title VII requires in religious accommodation cases.
In sharp contrast to the ADA’s demanding “reasonable accommodation” standard, this decision highlights how much less is required of employers under the “slight burden” (or “de minimus”) standard for religious failure-to-accommodate claims under Title VII (a standard the Supreme Court just declined to revisit). Even under this less-demanding standard, employers must have proper procedures and training in place to handle religious accommodation requests, whether from applicants or current employees, or they will not achieve the same result as Walmart did here.