Federal Employment Law Update- Religious Discrimination

Welcome back for your Wednesday federal employment law update!  Today we will look at an opinion from last week in a Title VII case involving alleged religious discrimination in the workplace.  I always find religious discrimination cases fascinating because we are all familiar with pop culture humor where people joke about not being able to do something undesirable because their religion forbids it.  In religious discrimination cases, the religious beliefs are real, as is the conviction claimants have about it.  But, how far does the employer have to go? 

In Harrell v. Donahue, 2011 WL 1166670 (8th Cir. March 31, 2011), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal held that a branch of the United States Postal Service did not have to alter its seniority system to accommodate the requests of Hosea Harrell, a Seventh-Day Adventist.  Harrell was a mail carrier at the USPS’ Warrensburg, Missouri, office.  The office required seven letter carriers every day between Monday and Saturday to fulfill its routes.  Aside from the most senior mail carrier, who had a set Monday-Friday schedule, all other carriers had a rotating day off, meaning each worked five Saturdays out of every six. 

After working for the USPS for 5 years, Harrell, still the most junior full-time letter carrier for the branch, requested an accommodation to be off on Saturdays, either through a set schedule or to be permitted to use vacation time or approved leave without pay.  After speaking with Harrell’s co-workers to see if any would volunteer to pick up his Saturday shifts, and determining that none would, the USPS refused the accommodation, as it would require other employees with equal scheduling entitlements to Harrell to be disadvantaged, creating an undue hardship.

The trial court agreed, granting summary judgment to the USPS.  On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that an undue hardship exists if it creates more than a de minimis impact on co-workers.  Finding that Saturday work was the most undesirable workday, a chore that Harrell and his co-workers shared equally and fairly, the Eighth Circuit refused to require Harrell’s co-workers to pick up the slack and work a disproportionate share of Saturdays.

I think the Eighth Circuit got it right here.  Ultimately, every worker must strike a balance between their faith and their duties.  If a job clearly calls for work that your religion forbids either because of the job duties or scheduling, whose responsibility is it to cure the problem.  The employee’s or the employer’s? 


THE COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG DO NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.  NOR DO THEY CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  They are provided for informational purposes only.  Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. 
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