|Jesus goes into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights|
It's Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and I have been wondering about where the courts and agencies have come down on Catholic employees' requests for religious accommodations. Lent has several days which are very important to Catholics: Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday (additionally the feast days of St. Joseph and St. Patrick fall within Lent). Although these days are not holy days of obligation, Catholics have sincere beliefs about how to observe them. Is there much guidance regarding their requests to shift schedules to observe these days? Additionally, Catholics are called to personal acts of penance during Lent. Is there any guidance for requests to accommodate these?
I have been looking for some kind of guidance specifically tailored to Catholic employees, a kind of "how to" on seeking religious accommodation that would list all the ways a Catholic employee might want to be accommodated and case law and guidance on what results he might expect. If someone knows of something like this, please drop a comment or send me an email. If someone is interested in creating one, please send me an email, I would love to work on that project. In the meantime, I have spent a little time hunting around to compile a list of Catholic accommodation decisions:
1. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Compliance Manual states under Example 3 , "A Catholic employee requests a schedule change so that he can attend church services on Good Friday...[this and other] accommodation requests relate to a “religious” belief or practice within the meaning of Title VII." Unfortunately, the guide does not cite a Catholic employee related case for this proposition, but it is probably referring to 2.
2. Edwin Cardona and Felipe Borrero v. U.S. Postal Service, EEOC Appeal Nos. 01882012, 01882013, via 1990-MAR Army Law. 53, *54 (Oct. 11, 1989). The Postal Service failed to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of Catholic employees where it allowed them to take only five hours of leave on Good Friday, while allowing Jewish employees to take a full day, "the agency's justification for the different treatment was based on its interpretation of Catholic cannon law, which did not require more than two hours of church attendance on Good Friday, and Jewish law, which forbade work on holy days. The EEOC held that an agency had no authority to interpret religious laws or evaluate the sincerity of an individual's religious practices in developing its policy on religious accommodation."
3. Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center (1973 Arbitration decision) via 48-DEC Disp. Resol. J. 54, 59 "the arbitrator upheld the hospital's right to discipline a Roman Catholic employee for refusing to work on Good Friday since church law did not prohibit an employee from working on that day. Citing the many church services that are held in the evening in that community to accommodate the religious needs of working people and the statement of the hospital's Roman Catholic chaplain that Catholics may work on Good Friday, the arbitrator concluded that the grievant's decision not to work that day was more a matter of religious preference as opposed to an obligation that warranted protection under the contract's nondiscrimination provision."
4. NLRB v. Sauk Valley Mfg. Co., Inc., 486 F.2d 1127, (C.A.9, 1973) The NLRB conducted an election on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, but the results were not overturned.
Holy Days of Obligation and Sabbath
5. Pielech v. Massasoit Greyhound, Inc., 668 N.E.2d 1298 (Mass.,1996). This was a procedurally complicated case where two Catholic racetrack employees were not allowed to take off Christmas. The case decided under Massachusetts law rather than Title VII and that law was struck down as unconstitutional.
6. Salisbury v. Potter, 2010 WL 128642, (N.D.Ill., 2010). A Postal employee whose practice was to attend mass on Saturday evenings did not suffer an adverse action when forced to work Saturdays because he had opportunity to attend on Sunday.
7. Felix v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., Not Reported in F.Supp.2d WL 3245368, (C.D.Cal., 2010) Employer attempted to accommodate employee's request to not work Sundays, but employee did not follow up on employer's suggestions.
8. Wilson v. U.S. West Communications, 58 F.3d 1337 (8th Cir. 1995) Catholic employee opposed to abortion wore a button and a T-shirt with photographs of a fetus. Other employees complained, the employer told her to stop wearing the shirt, and when she refused it fired her. The court held that the plaintiff's religious beliefs did not require her to wear the button in front of other employees. For commentary see 22 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 959, 979.
9. Tiano v. Dillard Dep't Stores, 139 F.3d 679 (9th Cir. 1998) Catholic employee's religious pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Yugoslavia was a personal preference because the employee's Catholic faith did not require that the pilgrimage be made during the employer's busiest season.
10. Several resources state without citation that there is a case where an employee's "Old Catholic" belief that she had to keep her head covered at all times was held to be protected.
11. EEOC v. AFSCME, 937 F.Supp. 166 (N.D.N.Y.1996) A Catholic employee who opposed capital punishment and abortion but who had to pay agency fee to Union was reasonably accommodated by the Union allowing the Catholic employee to donate to a charity instead.