Employee’s Request for Religious Accommodation Impacted by Collective Bargaining Agreement
Ty Hyderally, Esq., Francine Foner, Esq.
November 29, 2018
If you are a union employee seeking an accommodation to your work schedule for religious reasons, you may have less success in obtaining that accommodation than a non-union employee. At least that seems to be the take away from a recent decision by the New Jersey District Court dismissing the Title VII claims of an employee of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (“Port Authority”) for failure to accommodate his request to not be scheduled to work on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays. Miller v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 193633 (D.N.J. 2018).
Gary Miller (“Miller”) worked for Port Authority at Newark Liberty International Airport. Shortly after his hire he requested that he not be scheduled to work shifts that conflicted with the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Port Authority offered Miller options which it considered would “reasonably” accommodate Miller’s request, such as swapping shifts with other employees, using his vacation, personal excused time, or compensatory time, but denied Miller’s preferred “blanket” accommodation of not being scheduled on work any conflicting shifts.
The Court opined that in this context, the law requires an employer “to show either it made a good-faith effort to reasonably accommodate the religious belief, or such an accommodation would work an undue hardship upon the employer and its business.” Id. at *31. The Court agreed that the scheduling options offered to Miller by Port Authority reflected a good-faith effort to reasonably accommodate Miller’s religious belief.
The Court further held that granting Miller the requested “blanket” accommodation would result in undue hardship to Port Authority, as it would violate the collective bargaining agreement’s requirement to first offer the preferred shifts to more senior employees, as well as the collective bargaining agreement’s requirement that past practices be maintained. As the Miller Court opined, “courts have uniformly held that compromise of a seniority system or violation of a collective bargaining agreement is a cognizable form of undue hardship,” citing to several cases supporting this sentiment. Thus, the Court held that Port Authority was only required to offer Miller a “reasonable” accommodation, and did not have any obligation to “totally eliminate any conflict.” Id. at *32-33.
Thus, because Port Authority met its burden to show that it had offered Miller a “reasonable” accommodation, as well as that the requested accommodation of “totally eliminating” the conflict would cause an undue burden upon Port Authority, the Court granted Port Authority’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing Miller’s complaint.
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