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Employee Refusing to Provide SSN Has No Religious Discrimination Claim

    Client Alerts
  • February 13, 2015
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers in some situations to accommodate employees’ and applicants’ religious beliefs and practices by varying policies and procedures of general applicability. However, as demonstrated by a new decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, this obligation does not extend to requests that would result in violation of federal or state law.

In Yeager v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp., the plaintiff was a fundamentalist Christian who applied for a job with the defendant. When asked for his Social Security number, the plaintiff claimed that he had renounced the SSN as the “mark of the beast,” and therefore would not provide it to the defendant. When rejected for the position, the plaintiff sued, claiming religious discrimination.

The Sixth Circuit quickly affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court noted that federal tax law requires employers to collect the SSNs of their employees. Title VII’s religious accommodation obligations do not require an employer to violate federal or state law. Federal tax law is not an employment requirement from which an accommodation is possible, and therefore, the plaintiff could not make out a prima facie case of religious discrimination.

In some circumstances, employers overestimate their obligation to agree to employee accommodation demands. This case demonstrates that in many of these situations, common sense and compliance with clearly applicable laws will not result in viable claims from disgruntled persons.