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Alcoa must defend its religious accommodation policies

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Timothy Walker began working at Alcoa’s Lafayette plant in 1995. He was also a pastor at his church. In May 1998, Walker was appointed head pastor, and he asked Alcoa if he could be excused from working Sunday shifts at the plant.

Alcoa granted his request until 2005. By then, 11 employees were excused from Sunday work because of religious beliefs, and three more had requested the same accommodation. The company determined that it could no longer provide a blanket excuse from working on Sundays and still meet its production goals.

Following the decision, Walker failed to report for work on several Sundays. Alcoa progressively disciplined him and finally fired him. He sued for religious discrimination.

Alcoa filed for summary judgment, arguing that it had offered Walker eight alternative accommodations, but he refused everything short of a permanent guarantee of Sundays off. Granting that, the company argued, would have “breached the collective bargaining agreement, treated other employees unfairly, diminished overall morale, resulted in loss of productivity and increased wages, and created a tidal wave of similar requests.”

No sale. The judge found Alcoa’s alternative accommodations unreasonable, such as using vacation, changing jobs or working later on Sundays. Requiring any work on Sundays, regardless of whether the hours conflicted with his church services, violated Walker’s Sabbath beliefs, the judge ruled.

The court further found that Alcoa couldn’t show that its accommodations had imposed an undue hardship. The case heads to trial.

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