6/30/06: Federal Court Rules For Sabbath-keeping Worker
By Mark Kellner / ANN
June 30, 2006 Fayetteville, Arkansas, United States .... [Mark A. Kellner/ANN]
A United States federal district court in Fayetteville, Arkansas, has ruled for a Seventh-day Adventist who sought accommodation for his Sabbath-keeping beliefs. The worker was awarded U.S. $311,166.75 in lost wages and punitive damages.
Todd Sturgill, age 41 and a resident of Springdale, Arkansas, was a 19-year driver for United Parcel Service when he joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in May of 2004. In July of that year, Sturgill asked his employer for accommodation on Friday evenings during the upcoming holiday delivery season. After three months, Sturgill was told he would receive no accommodation.
Though Sturgill was happy to perform his job, his conviction about observing the Biblical Sabbath on the seventh day of the week - which begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on the Sabbath, or Saturday - would not allow him to perform work during that time.
Despite these roadblocks, Sturgill was able to make arrangements with his coworkers to adjust his schedule and keep the Sabbath until Friday, Dec. 17, 2004. On that day, despite repeated requests for assistance and accommodation, managers at the firm took no steps to enable Sturgill to complete his work before sundown, and he returned to the UPS center with roughly 35 undelivered parcels, and then went home. He was fired the following Monday for what UPS called "job abandonment."
The resulting hardships hit Sturgill, his wife Judi and their two children directly. Finding work as a mortgage broker, Sturgill saw his salary cut by two-thirds. He said he had to "cash in" his retirement savings, and borrow money to make ends meet during this time.
However, he added, the course of events did not diminish his convictions in obeying God.
"Through all of this, my faith has grown. Maybe a lot of people might want to try and blame God for what happened, but I wouldn't change a thing. If I had lost [in court] today, I still would have been thankful for what I'd done, standing up for what I believe," he told Adventist News Network in a telephone interview.
The June 30 ruling supports an earlier federal court case in which an auto salesman in Arkansas, who was not a Seventh-day Adventist, won the right to have his Sabbatarian beliefs accommodated.
"While we are gratified over today's outcome, one message is clear," said Todd McFarland, associate general counsel for the Seventh-day Adventist world church. "The United States needs to enact the Workplace Religious Freedom Act to safeguard the rights of working people."
Joining McFarland in this case were Fayetteville attorney Charles M. Kester of the Kester Law Firm, and now-retired associate general counsel Mitchell A. Tyner, who previously handled religious liberty issues for the world church. Tyner noted that offerings from Seventh-day Adventist members in North America played a part in bringing the Sturgill case to this victory.
"The Seventh-day Adventist Church takes an annual religious liberty offering throughout North America," Tyner said, "and part of it goes into a litigation fund for church members with religious liberty difficulties. Todd lost his job, and two-thirds of his income. If we had not been there to carry the ball, UPS would have gotten away with it."
From its founding in 1863, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has vigorously sought to defend religious freedom for all people, including Sabbath-keepers. Today, the church works globally to protect those rights.
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