Can an individual with a sincerely held religious belief ask for her Sabbath off every week as a reasonable accommodation when her co-workers are claiming that this creates an undue hardship on them?
Kimberly Crider is a Seventh Day Adventist who worked for the University of Tennessee as a Programs Abroad Coordinator. Crider’s job duties included attending conferences, traveling internationally, and monitoring an emergency cell phone on a rotating basis, including on weekends, with several other coordinators. The emergency phone was activated so students studying abroad could reach a coordinator in an emergency. Because a student’s file might need to be accessed during an emergency, the coordinator with monitoring duties was required to stay in Knoxville while in possession of the phone. During her employment, there were three coordinators who shared responsibility for carrying the emergency cell phone on a rotating basis at all times, including off-hours and weekends.
Shortly after beginning her employment, Crider told her employer that her religion prohibited her from working from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. She asked that she be given the accommodation of not having to work during her Sabbath and in particular that she not be required to have the emergency cell phone during this period of time. When the university failed to offer her any accommodation, she suggested a schedule shift with her co-workers: They would carry the cell phone during her Sabbath, and she would carry it more during the rest of the week. Her co-workers rejected the idea, saying that having to carry the cell phone every other weekend would be too burdensome since they could not travel or “disengage” from work. One of her co-workers threatened to quit. The university rejected the accommodation, claiming it created an undue hardship. Crider proposed several other accommodations, including having her supervisor or some other departmental staff carry the cell phone from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday or having any emergency calls forwarded to the campus police. These accommodations were rejected, and the university terminated Crider after determining that she was unable to fulfill her job duties.
The lower court granted summary judgment after determining Crider’s request that her co-workers carry the cell phone during her Sabbath while she carried it for additional hours during the week would have created an undue hardship for her co-workers.
The Court of Appeals, in reversing the decision, found that the mere grumblings of co-workers was not enough to show an undue hardship on the employer’s part. The court noted, “Title VII does not exempt accommodation which creates undue hardship on the employees
; it requires reasonable accommodation ‘without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.
’ The court further noted ‘objections and complaints of fellow employees, in and of themselves, do not constitute undue hardship in the conduct of an employer’s business,’ noting that ‘undue hardship is something greater than hardship, and an employer does not sustain his burden of proof merely by showing that an accommodation would be bothersome to administer or disruptive of the operating routine.’”
The Sixth Circuit held that an employer must show objective evidence that granting a religious accommodation will cause its business to suffer an undue hardship and a co-worker’s threat of quitting if forced to be on call every other week instead of once every three weeks was not sufficient to meet its burden.
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