This week, two U.S. Courts of Appeals publish decisions about whether religiously-oriented employers were exempt from Title VII owing to alleged religious-liberty rights: a Methodist hospital wins in the Second Circuit, while a funeral home loses in the Sixth Circuit.
The Tenth Circuit reverses summary judgment in a Title VII religious accommodation case, holding that a jury must decide both (1) whether the employer offered a reasonable accommodation to two Seventh Day Adventist employees who could not work Friday nights or Saturdays, by allowing them to swap shifts with willing co-workers; and (2) whether further accommodating their Sabbath observance would cause undue hardship.
In a rare federal court of appeals opinion in this area, the Third Circuit has occasion to decide whether a hospital employee manifested a religious (versus an ethical) objection to getting a flu shot that would be protected by Title VII's religious-accommodation provision, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j).
The fourth Circuit affirms a jury verdict and back-pay relief of $586,860 in favor of the EEOC, in a Title VII religious accommodation case where the employer stubbornly "belie[ved] that it could rely on its own understanding of scripture to limit the scope of the accommodation it offered" an employee who, because of his Christian faith, refused to use a hand scanner.
The epic EEOC challenge to Abercrombie & Fitch's "Look Policy" for its retail stores turns another page, as the Supreme Court holds 8-1 that the Tenth Circuit erred in granting judgment as a matter of law to the employer on the agency's religious discrimination case. Seven justices, in an opinion signed by Justice Scalia, hold that There is no "knowledge" requirement for Title VII discrimination claims. Thus, the company's argument that it did not "know" about the applicant's Muslim religious faith - even though she was wearing a headscarf - did not avoid liability. Justice Alito concurs only in the judgment; Justice Thomas dissents.
The Fifth Circuit addresses a seldom-litigated question under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j): whether plaintiffs in religious reasonable-accommodation cases must prove both that they hold sincere ("bona fide") religious convictions, and that the activities to be accommodated constitute true religious beliefs. The panel splits 2-1, with the majority reversing summary judgment for the employer and holding that even a non-religious observance (here, a community service event for the plaintiff's church) might require accommodation.
Within a week of Abercrombie & Fitch ("A&F") announcing a settlement with the EEOC of two Title VII religious accommodation claims involving hijab-wearing employees in California, the Tenth Circuit orders entry of judgment for the clothing retailer against the EEOC in a similar case arising out of Oklahoma. The 2-1 decision applies a formalistic circuit rule that "the applicant or employee must initially provide the employer with explicit notice of the conflicting religious practice and the need for an accommodation for it." Employees are forewarned that, where workplace accommodations are concerned, courts expect you speak up for your rights.
The Seventh Circuit sends back for trial this Title VII religious-accommodation case, concerning a Nigerian employee's request for five weeks' leave time to attend his father's funeral overseas. One disputed issue was whether the employee clearly indicated a religious purpose for the voyage, where he said that "if he failed to lead the burial rites, he and his family members would suffer at least spiritual death."
An employer who fires an employee expressly because she became pregnant before marrying the father obviously violates the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. And it did not help the employer, in this case, that it asserted the "ministerial exception," as recently declared in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical LuTherean Church & Sch. v. EEOC, 132 S.Ct. 694, 706 (2012).
Two appeals reviewing jury trials in Title VII cases came down today. In the first, the plaintiff - a physician - wins two claims at trial (retaliation and constructive discharge, centered on claims of racial discrimination), but loses the latter claim on appeal, necessitating a remand for recalculation of damages. In the second, the plaintiff lost her sex discrimination and retaliation trial, but the Seventh Circuit vacates and remands, criticizing the unnecessarily complicated and inaccurate jury verdict and instruction forms.