Employees not entitled to preferred religious accommodation, 10th Cir. says
- An employee who was granted an exemption from mandatory overtime — instead of having it rescheduled — received an appropriate religious accommodation, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (Christmon v. B&B Airparts, Inc., No. 17-3209 (May 24, 2018)).
- Jerome Christmon asked that he be allowed to work his mandatory weekend overtime shift on Sunday rather than Saturday to accommodate his observance of the Sabbath. He was told to submit a request for time off; the court noted that Christmon did not submit the form and later stopped showing up for Saturday work. Although the employer, B&B Airparts, did not discipline Christmon for missing the shifts, he “remained dissatisfied because he lost the opportunity to earn overtime hours, which he would have kept if he had been assigned shifts on Sunday,” according to court documents. Christmon was eventually fired for violating the company’s sexual harassment policy.
- Christmon sued the company, alleging that it failed to accommodate his religious beliefs, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A federal district court granted summary judgment for the employer, holding that it had provided a reasonable accommodation. The 10th Circuit agreed with the lower court, ruling that the employer’s accommodation — allowing the employee to avoid the conflict with his religious beliefs, even if he lost the opportunity for income — was reasonable.
A reasonable accommodation does not necessarily have to spare an employee from its impact, the court noted here. Although Christmon requested an opportunity to make up his overtime hours on Sunday, Title VII does not require an employer to provide a worker’s preferred accommodation. B&B Airparts’ accommodation allowed Christmon to avoid the conflict with his religious beliefs, even if he lost the opportunity for overtime. As a result, the accommodation was reasonable even though it was not the one that the employee preferred.
While employers don’t have to grant the accommodation an employee wants, they are still expected to engage in an interactive, good-faith process to determine appropriate accommodations. Communication is key, just as with the Americans with Disabilities Act's interactive process, an informal discussion during which employers can work to understand an employee's limitations and consider various solutions.
And because front-line mangers often cause nondiscrimination law violations, HR may want to ensure that all supervisors are trained on handling requests for accommodation. Employers can be held liable for failing to provide an accommodation if they knew or should have known that an employee needed something, so managers should be trained to listen for things that might not seem like an obvious, "official" request. Employees don't need to use any special words and, in fact, don't even need to know that the laws exist to be eligible for their coverage.
- 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Jerome Christmon v. B&B Airparts, Inc.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace