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Religious Accommodation Claim Must Involve Consequences Such As Discipline Or Discharge

    Client Alerts
  • May 15, 2009

Under Title VII, employers are required to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of employees in the absence of an undue hardship.  Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the circumstances under which an employee can claim failure to accommodate when no clear adverse employment action was involved.  The plaintiff in Reed v. International Union, UAAAIWA, was a union member who objected to paying union dues due to his religious beliefs.  The collective bargaining agreement provided that employees with such objections could instead pay a comparable amount to specified charities.  The plaintiff sued because the charitable contributions were calculated using a method that resulted in slightly higher payments than comparable union dues.

The Sixth Circuit was faced with the question of whether the plaintiff suffered from an adverse employment action.  The court recognized that unions’ responsibilities under Title VII are different from employers’ duties.  However, to advance a religious failure to accommodate claim, the plaintiff must show more than alleged deficiencies in the accommodation.  He must show that he has been materially and adversely affected by the decision.

In this case, the alleged hardship arose from the accommodation itself.  The difference between the two payments was not material enough to meet this requirement.  While the employee might be able to argue disparate treatment based on religion, his claim was limited to failure to reasonably accommodate his beliefs.  Employers may be able to use this decision to argue that workplace effects short of discipline or discharge will not be sufficient to state an accommodation claim.