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Recent Ruling Provides Path for U.S. Supreme Court to Revisit Religious Accommodation Requirement

    Client Alerts
  • May 29, 2020

Under Title VII, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who request work modifications for religious observances. However, following a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision, federal courts have viewed this religious accommodation mandate as fairly minimal in nature. Employers are only required to provide measures that pose a minimal financial burden or disruption to the business.

In a recent Supreme Court opinion, three justices suggested that this standard is ripe for revisit and possible reversal. In their opinion, Title VII’s religious accommodation is closer to that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires employers denying accommodations to demonstrate an undue hardship. However, those justices noted that the case before them was not the appropriate vehicle for revisiting this standard.

Earlier this month, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Georgia) may have provided such a vehicle. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of a discrimination claim filed by a Seventh-day Adventist who requested a schedule change to avoid working on the Sabbath. In Dalberiste v. GLE Associates Inc., the district court relied upon the employer’s contention that accommodating the plaintiff would have required co-workers to pick up additional shifts. The case appears to have been filed for the purpose of prompting the Supreme Court to revisit the 1977 religious accommodation standard.

If the Supreme Court accepts review of this decision, and if a new accommodation standard is established, employers could be required to completely revise their response to employee scheduling and other religious accommodation requests. If this accommodation burden is deemed more than minimal, employers would need to establish interactive review processes similar to those used to review disability accommodation requests under the ADA.