The Burden of Religious Accommodation Should Not Fall on Other Workers
This was the point made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in rejecting a prospective Assistant Manager’s demand to be excused from working his Sabbath, which would have required other Assistant Managers to work Saturdays in his stead.
In EEOC v. Walmart Stores East, L.P., the Walmart store was open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, during which one of eight Assistant Managers should always be present. The Assistant Managers are assigned on a rotating schedule such that each works an average of 6 out of every 10 weekends. After being offered an Assistant Manager position, the plaintiff informed the employer that, as a Seventh Day Adventist, he could not work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The employer determined that providing the requested accommodation would leave the store shorthanded at times, or require it to hire a ninth Assistant Manager, or would require the other Assistant Managers to work more of the less preferable weekend shifts. It withdrew the offer of the Assistant Manager position and instead offered the plaintiff a lower-paid hourly manager position that could have accommodated his Sabbath. He rejected the offer and filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which then decided to sue on his behalf. The EEOC’s suit was thrown out by the trial court, and it appealed.
The Seventh Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision. Under Title VII, employers must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious needs absent an undue hardship. Unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act, which imposes a high standard for demonstrating an undue burden, any religious accommodation that requires an employer to bear more than a de minimis (i.e. slight) cost is an undue burden.