Court Concluded Employer Discriminated Against Discharged Employee on the Basis of His Religious Beliefs

Can an employee be terminated for his refusal (based on religious beliefs) to work on

Can an employee be terminated for his refusal (based on religious beliefs) to work on Sundays? That was the difficult question before a federal appeals court.

When hired, the employee (who was a member of the Church of God) explained to his employer that he could not work on Sundays because it would violate his religious beliefs. He was advised working on Sundays was purely voluntary. However, a few years later, the employer experienced a substantial increase in business, and it was forced to operate on some Sundays.

The employee was ordered to work on a number of Sundays, and on each occasion he refused. He eventually was terminated, and later sued the employer for its alleged violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits most employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion unless they can demonstrate that they are "unable to reasonably accommodate" an employee's religious beliefs "without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business."

The court concluded that the employer had in fact violated Title VII, since it had discriminated against the discharged employee on the basis of his religious beliefs, but had failed to make any attempt to "reasonably accommodate" those beliefs. In particular, the court observed that several other employees testified that they would have been willing to work on Sundays in place of the discharged employee if they had been asked.

The court rejected the employer's claim that it had no duty to accommodate the religious beliefs of an employee who absolutely refused to work on Sundays, since the employer's position "turns the statute on its head. It improperly places the burden on the employee to be reasonable rather than on the employer to attempt accommodation." Even an absolute refusal to work on Sundays "requires some offer of accommodation by employers," concluded the court.

E.E.O.C. v. Ithaca Industries, Inc., 849 F.2d 116 (4th Cir. 1988)

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