The right way to handle a request for a religious accommodation

The Seventh Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of a case against the Chicago Police Department.  The case provides a nice blueprint of how employers should respond to requests for religious accommodations.

Latice Porter was employed by the Department as a senior data entry specialist.  In 2005 she was assigned to a schedule that required her to work Sunday mornings.  Because Porter attends church on Sundays as part of her observance of her Christian faith, she asked for a schedule change.  The request was immediately granted.  Subsequently, due to operational needs, Porter was again assigned a schedule that called for work on Sunday mornings.  When she asked for a change, her supervisor told her her request would be granted as soon as an opening in the alternate schedule opened up.  She also asked co-workers to switch shifts with Porter (but no one volunteered).  Then, Porter was offered a Sunday evening shift, so as not to interfere with her Sunday morning church activities.  She did not accept the offer and instead stopped showing up on Sundays altogether.  She then sued under Title VII for failure to accommodate.

The lower court dismissed the case (on summary judgment) and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.  According to the court, once an employer offers an accommodation that alleviates the conflict between work and the religious observance, it has met its Title VII duty.  The employee’s preferred accommodation need not be granted.  Thus, the offer of a Sunday night shift satisfied its burden.

The lesson?  Talk to employees who request altered schedules (or anything else, for that matter) due to religious reasons.  Try to come up with a possibility that resolves the conflict, even if it is not the employee’s first choice.

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