Employees May Bring Title VII Failure-to-Accommodate Claims Based on Religion Only When They Have Suffered an Adverse Employment Action
Plaintiffs bringing failure-to-accommodate claims under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) based on religion must prove they suffered an adverse employment action such as a termination, demotion, or decrease in pay, under a recent federal district court case in Colorado.FN1
In Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. JBS USA, LLC, Muslim employees at a meat packing plant claimed they were denied a reasonable religious accommodation during the holy month of Ramadan because their employer did not provide acceptable breaks for prayer, resulting in certain employees walking off the job.FN2 Because the employer was willing to provide an accommodation for prayer breaks, even though it was “one which did not constitute a reasonable accommodation,” the fact that the accommodation was not acceptable to the employees, by itself, did not amount to religious discrimination. Moreover, the court found that any related suspensions and terminations were motivated by the employees’ improper work stoppage—not animus against providing an accommodation.FN3
It is imperative that employers explore requested accommodations based on employees’ religious beliefs. However, in Colorado, an employer’s failure to immediately provide an accommodation requested by an employee, by itself, likely is not actionable under Title VII. Whether an accommodation is reasonable or would result in an undue hardship for an employer, and whether an adverse employment action has taken place, are highly fact-specific questions, and employers are urged to consult with an employment attorney when faced with religious accommodation questions.
FN1 Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. JBS USA, LLC, No. 10-CV-02103-PAB-KLM, 2018 WL 4565568 (D. Colo. Sept. 24, 2018). The JBS decision is consistent with an earlier District of Colorado decision that held that freestanding religious accommodation claims are not viable. EEOC v. JetStream Ground Serv., Inc., 134 F. Supp. 3d 1298, 1324-26 (D. Colo. 2005).
FN2: JBS USA, LLC, 2018 WL 4565568, passim. Some employees who walked off the job were suspended or terminated, which conflicted with a collective bargaining agreement’s no-strike provision. Id. at *5, 28.
FN3: Id. at *28, 35.