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Yes, denying Saturday Sabbath is religious discrimination

Could you legally be fired if you were an observant Christian and refused to work on Sunday? No, that would be a classic case of wrongful termination and religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of course. Some employers, however, appear to be unaware that many observant religious folks don’t celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday, but instead do so between sundown on Friday through sunset on Saturday. Most people know that Jews follow this traditional practice, and Muslims worship on Friday. Members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday.

It appears that at least two New Jersey supervisors at Dollar General, which has stores in 40 states, are among those who don’t know about Saturday Sabbath observances, or don’t care. A Seventh-Day Adventist recently filed religious discrimination, hostile work environment, and wrongful termination claims against the company after refusing to work on the Sabbath.

According to his lawsuit, when he applied to be a store manager in 2010, he made it clear that he would never be available to work after dark on Friday or during the day on Saturday, as his religion requires observance of the Sabbath. He was offered the job, and the district manager who hired him reassured him that, “without exception,” he would never be asked to work on Saturday and would not be terminated without cause.

It wasn’t long before he was assigned a Saturday shift at a partner store. Other observant Christians were exempted from Sunday-Sabbath shifts with a smile, but the Adventist claims he was subjected to "repeated comments, statements and harassment" over his own beliefs. So, it was no surprise when the partner-store’s manager “became angry” when he declined the shift.

The next day, he says, his district manager demanded a written statement explaining his religious objection to Saturday shifts. Nevertheless, although he says his work was always “exemplary and unimpeachable,” he was given two choices: work on Saturdays or accept a demotion with reduced hours. When he refused, he was fired and escorted from the premises.

He sued Dollar General’s parent company Dolgencorp, LLC, and several employees. Dolgencorp responded by trying to get at least some of his complaints dismissed.

While a U.S. District Court judge did find that some of his claims were time-barred and felt that his hostile work environment claim needed to be amended, he left most of the lawsuit intact. Once he re-files his hostile work environment claim under Title VII, his discrimination and wrongful discharge case can now move forward to trial.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Denying Sabbath Off May Hammer Dollar General," Rose Bouboushian, Aug. 29, 2013

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