Hosea Harrell worked for the U.S. Postal Service in the state of Missouri. When he went from a part time employee to full time, Harrell was told he must work on his Sabbath, when scheduled. Harrell wrote a letter to his supervisor and explained he could not work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday; and asked for a work place religious accommodation. The Postal Service refused the requested accommodation and Harrell lost his job. He filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity office, seeking legal protection under Title VII to the U.S. Civil Rights Act which requires employers to “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s religious beliefs, unless to do so would result in an “undue hardship.” With the help of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Harrell filed a lawsuit against the Postal Service in the U.S. District Court for Missouri. The Postal Service filed a motion for summary judgment claiming it was entitled to a ruling in its favor without a trial. The District Court Judge, Dean Whipple, agreed with the Postal Service and granted the requested summary judgment. Harrell, again with the help of attorneys retained by the Church, appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. There Harrell’s attorney argued that Judge Whipple’s decision was erroneous; that the Postal Service violated Title VII in failing to accommodate Harrell’s Sabbath beliefs; that an accommodation would not result in an undue hardship; and would not violate the collective bargaining agreement. The oral arguments of Mr. Harrell’s lawyer, Charles M. Kester, before the three-judge Court of Appeals can be listened to at: www.ca8.uscourts.gov/oralargs/oaFrame.html, click “case number” on the top left, enter case number: 101694, and click "play". Harrell’s attorney also raised a unique argument, contending that the Postal Service violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Court of Appeals has taken this case under advisement; and, we will let you know when it issues a decision.
As you listen to Attorney Kester’s arguments, remember when faced with religious discrimination in the workplace, you must put your employer on notice, preferably in writing, of your need for an accommodation; and, then the law requires the employer to reasonably accommodate your beliefs; unless it would result in an undue hardship. Because of ambiguities and a wide variety of interpretations of the law, it is important for you to seek counsel as soon as possible. Your conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Director, or this office [(301)596-0800], is a good place to start.