Counter religious discrimination claim by showing focus on accommodation, job performance

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Do you have a difficult employee who always has a ready excuse for poor performance? If he’s also demanding religious accommodations, don’t get sucked into litigation over alleged religious discrimination. Instead, do what you can to reasonably accommodate his religious needs while keeping the workplace focus on performance.

Recent case: Martin is Jewish and follows a Friday sundown to Saturday sundown Sabbath practice that prohibits all work and travel other than by foot during those time periods. He also insists on observing all Jewish holidays by not working.

When Martin took a job with the Associated Press (AP), he told his supervisor that he needed accommodations. At first, he was allowed to work from home every Fri­­day so he could quit immediately at sundown and not risk having to break his religious beliefs by commuting after the Sabbath began. He also arranged to take all Jewish holidays off.

Then a new supervisor noted that Martin wasn’t completing major proj­­ects on time, that his reports were incomplete and that he frequently wasn’t available for important meetings.

As a result, the supervisor revoked blanket permission for Martin to work from home. Instead, he could work from home on alternate Fri­­days; otherwise, he had to arrive early so he could get home before sunset. Martin agreed.

Martin was always permitted to take religious holidays off and could switch out other holidays like Christ­­mas for his preferred ones.

But Martin wasn’t just absent for religious holidays—he also frequently missed work for car trouble, doctors’ appointments, weddings, public transportation problems and other unexplained reasons.

In addition, it became clear as time went on that he loaded up his calendar with unavailable time blocks each time his supervisor was in town and might want to schedule a meeting.

After countless warnings about his poor performance, Martin was terminated. He sued, arguing that the real reason behind his discharge was religious bias.

He claimed that supervisors had loaded him up with work before religious holidays in an attempt to make him look like a poor performer when he was merely trying to get assignments done before the religious holidays.

The court tossed out his lawsuit. It said the AP did everything it was required to do by offering reasonable accommodations. Plus, it looked as if all the criticism Martin endured had to do with work quality and absences unrelated his religion, not his need to take time off for religious observance. (Yoselovsky v. The Associated Press, No. 10-CIV-9438, SD NY, 2013)

Final note: Martin tried another long shot, too. Since he was new at the AP, he didn’t yet have any performance reviews to show what a good worker he really was. Instead, he introduced past performance reviews from his previous employer. The court said that unless these were for the same job duties, they weren’t relevant at all.

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