SW Legal studies in Business

Employer Must Attempt Reasonable Accommodation of Religious Preferences
Description

Massachusetts high court held that an employer was liable for discrimination when it fired an employee who would not work on his Sabbath. The employer made no effort to provide accommodation by seeing if schedule swaps could handle the matter or not.

Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words

Religious Discrimination; Accommodation

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Marquez is a Seventh-Day Adventist who does not work on the Sabbath of his religion, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. He applied for a job with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and passed an exam to become a streetcar operator. He was given a conditional offer of employment, which was finalized after a drug test and check of his criminal background. After he began training, he told his supervisor that the schedule conflicted with his Sabbath. The main problem was the need for drivers especially on Friday evenings, a high capacity time. He was terminated and sued for discrimination based on religion. After administrative proceedings in his favor, the trial court agreed that MBTA failed to accommodate Marquez and failed to show that a change in schedule would constitute an undue hardship. There was no consideration given to the possibility of swapping schedules. MBTA could not leave shifts uncovered, but made no effort to check on availability of other personnel. He was awarded $50,000, ordered rehired, and his attorney fees were paid by defendant. MBTA appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. The MBTA could not be forced to accommodate an employee’s religious preferences by leaving his position uncovered, but it failed to show that the use of voluntary schedule swaps could accommodate the employee without undue burden on MBTA operations. Reasonable accommodation must be provided. Voluntary schedule swaps are common and not costly; MBTA had an obligation to check such an alternative rather than just fire Marquez.

Citation Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority v. Mass. Comm. Against Discrimination, 879 N.E.2d 36 (Sup. Ct., Mass., 2008)

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