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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

8th Circuit creates split on religious accommodation

Reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious practices need not eliminate a conflict in the workplace, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court ruled last week. The decision creates a split in the circuits on the issue.

In Sturgill v. United Parcel Service, Inc., the 8th Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a District Court jury’s finding that UPS violated Title VII by failing to reasonable accommodate the preferences of a Seventh Day Adventist not to work after sundown. Sturgill was fired after he walked off the job leaving packages undelivered when the company said it could not find someone else to take over his route when the sun went down.

The court affirmed Sturgill’s award of compensatory damages, reinstatement, front pay, attorney fees and costs, but reversed an award of punitive damages and “overly broad injunctive relief” directing the company to accommodate his observation of the Sabbath in the future.

The court indicated that the employee also has an obligation to accommodate: “a reasonable jury may find in many circumstances that the employee must either compromise a religious observance or practice, or accept a less desirable job or less favorable working conditions.”

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