In Bob v. Madison Security Group, Inc., the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a failure to accommodate claim brought by a former employee under Title VII and New York State and City employment statutes. Plaintiff alleged that his former employer scheduled him to work on Fridays, despite Plaintiff’s request that he be permitted to take Fridays off to observe the Muslim Sabbath. When Plaintiff failed to report for any scheduled Friday shifts, his employer reduced his schedule and eventually eliminated the position. Defendant argued on its summary judgment motion that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate bona fide religious belief and also denied that the former employee provided notice to his employer of the need for an accommodation.
Title VII requires an employer to engage in an interactive process and to make reasonable accommodations, short of undue hardship, for the religious practices of its employees. But to avail oneself of a religious accommodation, an employee’s religious belief must be bona fide and the employee must properly notify his/her employer of his/her need for an accommodation (or the need must be open and obvious). The Court, citing Plaintiff’s inconsistent deposition testimony, held that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate a bona fide religious belief because he equivocated during his testimony, first testifying that his beliefs permitted him to work on Fridays so long as the work didn’t interfere with Friday prayers, then testifying that he preferred not to work on Fridays but nevertheless could, then stating that he needed Friday off but would be able to accommodate working if it did not conflict with his prayer time. The Court further held that Plaintiff failed to notify his employer of his need for an accommodation. The evidence established that Plaintiff failed to indicate on his employment application and during his job interview any limitations upon his availability to work stating he could work “any days.”
This case serves as a reminder that employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to permit employees to practice their religious beliefs. As in disability accommodation cases, employers should maintain clear job descriptions and uniformly enforced policies in order to be in a position to confirm essential job functions and better support claims of undue hardship.