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Court: Religious Accommodation Is a Jury Question

By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 26, 2018 5:59 AM

Seventh Day Adventists take their Sabbath very seriously; some will forfeit their jobs over it.

Richard Tabura and Guadalupe Diaz are that serious. When they refused to work on the Seventh Day, their employer fired them.

They responded with a lawsuit, which a federal judge dismissed. But these plaintiffs are very serious, and they appealed in Tabura v. Kellogg USA.

Sundown to Sundown

The plaintiffs alleged that Kellogg USA violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by failing to accommodate their Sabbath observance. In their religion, that means sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

A trial judge denied the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and granted the defendant's, concluding that the employer reasonably accommodated the plaintiffs' religious practices. The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs did not prove their case, but that they should have their day in court.

Kellogg had allowed Tabura and Diaz to swap shifts with other workers and to use sick days in lieu of working on the Sabbath, the court observed, but that may not have been enough accommodation.

Shift-Swapping

The appeals panel said a jury will have to decide whether the employer offered reasonable accommodations. The judges said that "few things in life can be conflict-free," and that the law requires "only a reasonable accommodation between religious and employment obligations."

"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," the appeals court said.

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