Thursday, August 8, 2013
An interesting religious-accommodation case from the CTA7
Here is the CTA7's opinion (per Judge Hamilton) in Adeyeye v. Heartland Sweeteners. As The Indiana Lawyer puts it, "[a] Nigerian employee who asked his employer for time off work to attend his father’s burial rights and was fired when he returned is entitled to a day in court, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held Wednesday." Of particular interest, I think, is what the court had to say about the suggestion by the employer that the employee's religious beliefs were not "sincerely" held:
“The prospect that courts would begin to inquire into the personal reasons an
individual has for holding a religious belief would create a slippery slope we
have no desire to descend. Has the plaintiff had a true conversion experience?
Is he following religious practices that are embedded in his culture and family
upbringing? Is he making Pascal’s coldly rational wager to believe in God based
on his self-interest? These questions are simply not an appropriate or
necessary line of inquiry for courts.”
In my view, Judge Hamilton put the matter well: It is true that Title VII
only requires accommodation of employees’ religious beliefs, obligations, and
practices if the employee is “sincere”, but it is also true that courts wisely
avoid getting into psycho-analyzing or finely parsing the reasons *why*
a religious belief is held. (After all, isn't the answer, in the end, often "grace"?) The “sincerity” inquiry functions as a filter, to weed out sham and disingenuous claims for accommodation, but it is not supposed to authorize a judicial inquiry into the genealogy of a claimant’s religious beliefs.
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