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Workplace protections not limited to major religions

Minneapolis readers may be surprised to learn that the Seventh-day Adventist Church might be the 12th-largest religion in the world, according to one ranking. It also has a sizable presence in Minnesota, where German or Scandinavian immigrants founded many of its churches. A Protestant Christian denomination, it observes Saturday as the original 7th day -- or Sabbath -- of the Judeo-Christian week.

Even if the Seventh-day Adventist Church were a minor religion, however, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel recently affirmed that its followers might be entitled to federal, state and local protections against religious discrimination. The panel ruled that an employee, claiming religious discrimination for her observance of Seventh-day Adventist practices, could pursue her claim against her university employer. A lower court had dismissed the case on summary judgment.

The university hired the woman as a program abroad coordinator, a position that required monitoring an emergency hotline on a rotating basis, including weekends. The woman informed her supervisor that she was a Seventh-day Adventist and that her religious beliefs and practices made her unavailable for work from sundown Friday until sundown Sunday. Although there were 2 other coordinators working for the hotline center at the time of the woman's scheduling request, the university terminated her 1 month later for the alleged reason of her failure to fulfill her job duties.

In her lawsuit, the woman claimed that all of her scheduling suggestions were rejected. For example, the woman offered to take more responsibility at other times, provided her coworkers could exclusively cover weekends. She also suggested that emergency calls be forwarded to the campus police on weekends when the center was not staffed by a coordinator. Neither option was implemented.

What this story illustrates is that an employer may be required to make reasonable accommodations for an employee's religious beliefs. An employer may also be required to ensure that the workplace is free of disparaging remarks based on religion. An attorney can review your case and advise you on whether you may have a legal claim arising from a denied accommodation request or from a hostile work environment.

Source: Business Insurance, "Seventh-day Adventist can pursue religious bias claim against university: Court," Judy Greenwald, July 27, 2012

• Our firm handles situations similar to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Minneapolis Workplace Discrimination page.

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