Written by Don Byrd
In a ruling last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s dismissal of religious discrimination claims brought against Kellogg by two former employees who are Seventh Day Adventists. The suit alleges the employees were fired for refusing to work on Saturdays, their Sabbath, in violation of federal anti-discrimination law, which requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious practices.
The trial court determined that plant officials did properly accommodate the plaintiffs’ religious scheduling requirements by allowing them to use vacation time and to swap shifts with other employees. But the appeals court held that disputed facts surrounding those attempts at accommodation must be resolved by a jury.
Here is an excerpt from the opinion:
[E]ven if Plaintiffs used all of their vacation and other paid time off, that would still have been insufficient to avoid working some scheduled Saturdays, even when considered along with accruing disciplinary points short of termination. Kellogg, of course, also permitted Plaintiffs to swap shifts with others to avoid working their Sabbath. The reasonableness of the shift-swapping accommodation, however, as well as the reasonableness of the combination of taking paid time off and swapping shifts, are critical disputed issues of material fact in this case that a jury must resolve.
On the record here, we think a jury could find that, in light of the difficulties Plaintiffs had in arranging shift swaps in this case, Kellogg had to take a more active role in helping arrange swaps in order for that to be a reasonable accommodation of Plaintiffs’ Sabbath observance.
The decision returns the case to the lower court for a trial on what it calls a “multitude of genuinely disputed material facts.”