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Seventh-day Adventist can pursue religious bias claim against university: Court


CINCINNATI—A Seventh-day Adventist who was fired after refusing to be on call Friday night and Saturday for religious reasons can pursue her religious discrimination suit against the university that fired her, a federal appellate court ruled.

According to Monday's ruling in Kimberly Crider vs. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Ms. Crider was hired in May 2008 as a program abroad coordinator in the University of Tennessee's Programs Abroad Office. Her responsibilities included monitoring an emergency cellphone on a rotating basis, including weekends.

The emergency phone is used by students studying abroad so they can reach the office in the event of an emergency. Monitoring the phone requires staying in the Knoxville, Tenn., area, the ruling said.

Four days after starting work, Ms. Crider informed her supervisor, Pia Wood, that she was a Seventh-day Adventist and, because of her religious beliefs, was unable to perform work-related tasks from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, including monitoring the emergency phone, the ruling said.

Ms. Crider suggested a change in scheduling, whereby the program's other two coordinators would monitor the phone every other weekend, and she would take more responsibility at other times. However, the other two coordinators told Ms. Wood they were unwilling to do that, according to the ruling.

Ms. Crider said other suggestions she made, including having emergency calls forwarded to the campus police, were rejected. The university determined Ms. Crider was unable to fulfill her job duties, and terminated her in June 2008, the ruling said.

Ms. Crider filed suit against the university, charging religious discrimination. A lower court granted the university summary judgment and dismissed the case.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled Ms. Crider could pursue her litigation in a 2-1 opinion.


“Short of an undue hardship on the employer's business, an employer is required to make reasonable accommodations for the religious practices of its employees,” said the ruling.

“Although an employee is obligated to cooperate with an employer's attempt at accommodation, cooperation is not synonymous with compromise, where such compromise would be in violation of the employees' religious needs,” said the ruling.

The University of Tennessee and the district court “imply that it is Crider who has the duty to accommodate UTK's needs and ultimately she is the one being unreasonable,” it said.

The university insists requiring its employees to work Saturday shifts every other weekend would create an undue hardship on Ms. Crider's former co-workers, says the ruling.

“Title VII does not exempt accommodation which creates undue hardship on the employees; it requires reasonable accommodation “without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business,” the ruling said, quoting the statute.

“Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Crider, we find that she has raised a genuine issue as to whether UTK frustrated, inhibited, or impeded her efforts at obtaining such an accommodation,” said the ruling in remanding the case for further action.

Commenting on the ruling, Howard Friedman, professor emeritus at the University of Toledo and editor of the Religious Clause blog, said more facts are needed here. If it is found on remand that the hardship caused to the fellow employees by accommodating Ms. Crider “was enough to cause operational problems for the employer,” the university could ultimately prevail.

On the other hand, it could be found this was only matter of “other employees grumbling a bit,” which “wouldn't make much difference.”

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