Jackson Lewis Principal Dean Falavolito and Associate Joanna Rodriguez recently won a defense verdict for a Pittsburgh non-profit organization in a lawsuit claiming religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The client was insured by Employment Practices Liability Insurance (“EPLI”).
In the suit, the Plaintiff, a former employee, claimed that his sincerely held religious beliefs prevented him from attending a ceremony held to open the client’s new offices. The Plaintiff also claimed that he was terminated after he objected to the ceremony being held. The client held that the Plaintiff never provided “fair warning” that the ceremony would have conflicted with his religious beliefs and that the Plaintiff was terminated when he voiced his objection in an unprofessional and insubordinate way. The jury found for Jackson Lewis’ client on both counts, stating that the Plaintiff did not provide the client with fair warning of his religious beliefs and that the real reason for his termination was that he acted in an insubordinate manner.
A critical issue that came to light during the trial is whether an employee’s admitted insubordinate conduct can be “excused” if his conduct was “provoked” and/ or “justified” (as the Plaintiff attempted to argue). The trial judge allowed the Plaintiff to include a jury instruction where the jurors could consider excusing the Plaintiff’s conduct if they believe he was, in fact, provoked or justified. Despite this, the jury sided with the client, finding no liability.