DOJ Settles Sabbath Accommodation Suit Against Birmingham Police Department
The Civil Rights Division announced on September 25 that it had reached a settlement with the Birmingham, Alabama Police Department in a suit alleging a failure to accommodate the Sabbath of a Messianic Jewish employee. The suit, brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, alleges that a public safety dispatcher was forced to resign after the police department denied her request for a work schedule allowing her to observe the Sabbath from sunset Friday through sunset Saturday.
Title VII requires that employers make a reasonable accommodation of employee's religious observances and practice unless the employer can prove that this would impose an "undue hardship" on its operations. Gunn, who had worked as a dispatcher from 2008 through 2011, requested an accommodation when her assigned shifts conflicted with her religious belief that she is forbidden to work on the Sabbath. According to the United States' complaint, police officials told Gunn that they do not change days off for any religious faith.
"Employees should not have to choose between practicing their religion and their jobs," Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels stated on the day the settlement was announced. "This case highlights the obligation of an employer to engage in an interactive process to understand and work with an employee in finding an accommodation of the employee's religious beliefs that will not cause undue hardship to the employer. We commend the City of Birmingham for working cooperatively with the Justice Department to reach this agreement."
Under the terms of the settlement, which must be approved by the Court, Gunn will be reinstated and given back pay, and the city will develop and implement a religious accommodation policy for all employees that will meet its obligations under Title VII, and will train police department employees on the policy.
More information about the Civil Rights Division cases regarding religious discrimination in employment is available on the Employment Litigation Section website.