Monday, April 13, 2015

Three Former Nationals Ushers File Religious Discrimination Suit

Original Article:

Throughout the 2013 baseball season, three men of the 7th Day Adventists church were permitted to avoid working games that were on Friday nights, and Saturday days, citing those times as being ones designated for religious purpose under their religion. However, at the end of the season, the Nationals decided to fire the employees because their religion required an accommodation.
The three employees have filed a religious suit against the team citing religious discrimination, and are seeking damages as well as back pay for time missed due to their termination. All three of the defendants are DC residents who had been given significant praise by their supervisors, and were regarded well within the community as efficient and effective ushers. The suit further claims that the team had began reassigning its ushers, and scheduling more games during the sabbath time of observance for the three men. According to the 7th Day Adventist church, the sabbath is supposed to be observed from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. The Nationals fired the ushers on the grounds that their religious observance prevented them from working the minimum 80% of the teams games.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are generally forbidden from discriminating against an employee based on religion, and must accommodate the employee should their sabbath observance come in conflict with their work schedule. Exceptions to the rule come into play when the employer experiences some form of 'undue hardship'. This qualifies as excessive expenditure by the employer, or requiring other employees to overcompensate for those who are in observance. While there are potential legitimate cases that could be made regarding undue hardship, it is unlikely that the Nationals will allow this to go to court, and a settlement is sure to come.
In regards to free exercise, I understand the position that the 7th Day Adventists find themselves in. The three ushers are obligated by their religion to be in observance. However, I find myself siding with the Nationals in their termination of the ushers. The inability to work Fridays and Saturdays at a baseball stadium is, in my opinion, a sense of undue hardship. These are key nights in baseball, where there will be the most attendance, and the highest necessity for reliable employees. If the organization cannot rely on these ushers to work these key time slots, I am sure there are other people more then willing to show up on time and work those shifts. It is an unfortunate circumstance where religion crosses over into the workplace, however, I think it is most efficient for the organization to have consistent employees. In this case, they will be able to find those employees, who are not in need of such accommodations.

What do you think? Constitutionally, this is a grey area, as I interpret the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, you may have another opinion. Is there a case to be made for undue hardship? or is the organization blatantly exhibiting religious discrimination?


Anonymous said...

I agree that the Nationals should win in this case. The organization has a facially neutral law that all employees must be able to make it to at least 80% of the games and these ushers cannot fulfill that requirement. The Nationals aren't restricting free exercise. The Nationals are simply saying you can't work here if anything in your life (faith, location, etc.) restricts you to less than 80% of the games. The only reason the ushers might have a case here is because they were hired and then fired later in the season. Now, it seems as if the Nationals are burdening their free exercise. However, it was really their faith from the beginning that burdened this facially neutral employee policy that the Nationals had in place.

Sam Cohen said...

I also agree with your assessment of this situation, as I believe that the Nationals aren't telling the men to believe in a different religion or telling them that they disagree with their religious beliefs. Rather, the team is telling these men that they have a neutral policy in place and if employees cannot meet the criteria that the policy requires of all employees, the employees should find a job somewhere else. If the employees didn't show up to Friday and Saturday games because of family obligations or because they couldn't find a babysitter, it would be the same result. So religion is not being targeted over non-religion and the Nationals are not unjustly targeting this one religion, though the effect of their policy may negatively affect some religions. But effect and the policy itself are two different things and the policy itself is neutral.

This case reminded me a lot of Sherbert v. Verner in that Sherbert was not challenging whether she could be fired or not because her religious obligations did not allow her to fully attend to her job. This wasn't even a debate. She challenged whether she could be denied unemployment benefits, which the Court ruled she couldn't be denied. But nobody argued against the firing, as companies have their policies and can do as they please so long as the policies are neutral in their words and message.

Brandon Farrell said...

I agree with the Nationals decision to fire these ushers due to their lack of attendance. The organization had a policy regulating attendance that was facially neutral and applicably neutral to any employee that can't meet the requirement. These men must have been aware of this before getting the position and known it may be a problem. In my opinion this is undue hardship on the organization and they were justified to let theses ushers go.

Nate Hunter said...

I agree with Sam. The Nationals were not directly discriminating against the Seventh Day Adventists's religious practices or beliefs, they were simply saying that if you cannot work on these key nights for organization, you cannot hold the position. If the ushers are unable to work these nights, they are essentially not bale to fulfill the requirements that the job has. A private organization such as this should be able to operate any way it sees fit as long as it isn't discriminating against anyone, and in this case with a facially neutral policy such as this, I don't see why they would have to make an accommodation.

Kristen B. said...

I also agree that the Nationals had the right to fire the ushers. The ushers were employed by a professional baseball team whose games must be played most Friday nights and Saturday afternoons because that is when they can sell the most tickets.It almost seems like the ushers are trying to get paid without working because they have a religious conflict with the majority of the games they are required to work. Many people need jobs in the DC area and if the ushers aren't able to fulfill their required duties as employees then the Nationals have every right to fire them.