- An employer did not violate federal law when it decided that the reasonable accommodation proposed by a Seventh Day Adventist applicant for a position at a nuclear power plant posed an undue hardship, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (Dalberiste v. GLE Associates, Inc., No. 20-11101 (11th Cir. May 19, 2020)).
- Mitche Dalberiste, an industrial hygiene technician, sued after the employer rescinded his job offer upon learning that his faith prohibited him from working on the Sabbath, which extends from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The employer was hiring for a plant shutdown project that required technicians to work seven days a week in 12-hour shifts. In court papers, Dalberiste claimed religious discrimination, retaliation and failure to accommodate, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Dalberiste argued the employer could have shifted other technicians' work schedules and duties. A district court, however, disagreed and said the accommodations would have required other technicians to "bear an additional workload of an already demanding job," and would cause the employer to incur additional "efficiency, administrative and safety costs." At Dalberiste's request (so that he can challenge U.S. Supreme Court precedent), the 11th Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling, noting that the High Court has described "undue hardship" as any act requiring an employer to bear more than a "de minimis cost" in accommodating an employee's religious beliefs and that de minimis includes not only "monetary concerns, but also the employer's burden in conducting its business."
Dalberiste illustrates that although "undue hardship" is a high standard for employers to meet, it's not an impossible one.
In many instances, anti-discrimination laws require that an employer accommodate an employee's religious practices. However, if an employer can demonstrate that it is not able to reasonably do so without undue hardship to its business, an accommodation is not required.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said in guidance on religious discrimination that "an accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work."
The Dalberiste court observed that to accommodate the plaintiff, the employer would have to change its scheduling and work assignment procedures, incur additional costs to hire an additional employee and risk its contract with the nuclear power plant.