EEOC: Employers Can’t Require a Note from Your Rabbi …

From yesterday’s EEOC press release:

Center One, LLC, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based call center company with operations in Pennsylvania and New York, violated federal law by refusing to provide religious accommodations for an employee’s religious observance, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, in October 2016, a call center employee at Center One’s Beaver Falls, Pa., location, who is an adherent of Messianic Judaism, sought a reasonable accommodation of his religious beliefs and practice that he abstain from work on days of religious observance. The lawsuit states that Center One imposed disciplinary points against the Messianic Jewish employee for his absences in observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Center One required that the employee provide a certification from a religious leader or religious organization “on letterhead” as a precondition of granting him time off as a reasonable accommodation and imposed disciplinary points against the Messianic Jewish employee for his absences in observance of those religious holidays, the EEOC said.

The Messianic Jewish employee was not a member of a congregation at the time of his requests, but supplied other documents supporting his need for the religious accommodation. The EEOC charged that Center One wrongfully persisted in its demand that the employee provide certification from a religious leader or organization and forbade the employee from taking any additional days off for upcoming religious holidays. The employee was compelled to resign due to Center One’s refusal to accommodate his sincerely held religious beliefs, according to the suit.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination and mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations, such as excused absences, for the sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of their employees unless it would pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Center One, LLC, Civil Action No. 2:19-cv-01242) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, after first attempting to reach a prelitigation settlement through its conciliation process.

One can dispute whether employment law should require employers to exempt religious objectors from various generally applicable job duties (such as the requirement to show up each weekday). But Title VII does impose such a requirement, at least when the accommodation isn’t an “undue hardship” to the employer; and that requirement can’t turn on whether one belongs to an established religious congregation. (See my post on The Individualistic American Law of Religious Exemptions for more.)


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