U.S. Supreme Court Turns Away Workplace Religious Bias Claims - Manneliasem
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U.S. Supreme Court Turns Away Workplace Religious Bias Claims

Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court missed a crucial moment that could have been used to expand religious rights when they turned away two cases. Employees of different Christian denominations accused the companies they worked for, of violating a federal anti-discrimination law. The first plaintiff is a Jehovah’s Witness from Tennessee; the second is a Seventh-day Adventist from Florida.

The Plaintiffs

  • Jason Small leads the Jehovah’s Witness congregation at his place of worship. He worked as a dispatcher at Memphis Light, Gas and Water in Tennessee. Though it is a large business, he was denied time off to attend worship on Good Friday. He took the day off anyway to fulfill his obligations.He was suspended for two days without pay. The company claims he missed work occasionally – there is no clarification regarding his employer’s involvement.
  • Mitche Dalberiste is a Seventh-day Adventist. At the time he received a job offer from GLE Associates, a company in Florida. When he notified the company that he would be unable to work on Sabbath, an observance starting from sundown on Friday to Saturday they withdrew the offer.

The company claims he lied about his ability to work on weekends.

Companies Refused to Accommodate for Time Off

In the U.S., employees are protected under federal and state law when it comes to all aspects of religious observance, practice, and belief. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly states employers are required to accommodate employees unless it may lead to “hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” In This case, the plaintiffs’ employers refused to accommodate their requests for time off, which would be used to fulfill religious obligations outside of work.

This is one of many religious discrimination cases where employees have filed a claim regarding bias, prejudice, or failure to fulfill accommodations. Outside of the reported bias, lower courts found the accommodations would have placed hardship on the employer. In 1977 the Supreme Court determined it to be anything more than “minor”, subject to interpretation. This makes it easier for employers to inflict discriminatory behavior when considering accommodation.

Justices Weigh in on The Supreme Court Decision

Conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito have weighed in on the case and what could have been done differently for a fairer process. They believe the appeals should have happened in their respective states, as the Supreme Court has a broad view of religious liberties. The issue at hand is how Title VII may have failed the plaintiffs and what they can do next after hiring a religious discrimination lawyer and bringing their concerns to court.

According to Reuters, Gorsuch stated “religious rights under the employment law are ‘the odd man out” because they do not receive as much protection as other rights guaranteed under federal law, such as those that apply to the disabled.” He also wrote, “Alone among comparable statutorily protected civil rights, an employer may dispense with it nearly at whim.”

Last year, a similar appeal was declined involving a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Alito, Gorsuch, and Justice Clarence Thomas believed the court should revise the 1997 ruling. Doing so would help victims of religious discrimination receive restitution for damages caused. If you or a loved one experienced a similar situation in the workplace, have an employment lawyer in Los Angeles thoroughly review your case. You will need strong legal defense when going up against a company for any discriminatory claims.

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