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Appeals court decides jury will hear religious bias case


A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling dismissing a religious discrimination case filed by two terminated Kellogg USA employees who are Seventh Day Adventists.

Plaintiffs Richard Tabura and Guadalupe Diaz are Seventh Day Adventists who honor the Sabbath by refraining from work each week from sunset Friday to sundown Saturday, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in Richard Tabura; Guadalupe Diaz v. Kellogg USA; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Amicus Curiae.

The plaintiffs had previously worked at their Clearfield, Utah, plant 10 hours a day from Monday through Thursday, according to the ruling.

But when Battle Creek, Michigan-based Kellogg took over the plant in 2011, it changed the schedule so that they were required to work 26 Saturdays each year.

Kellogg permitted the plaintiffs to avoid these scheduling conflicts by using paid vacation and sick/personal time and arranging to swap shifts with other employees.

Because of difficulties rearranging their schedules, however, both workers accumulated disciplinary points that led to their 2012 termination. The two filed suit against Kellogg in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on charges including failure to accommodate their Sabbath observance.

The District Court granted Kellogg summary judgment dismissing the case, which a three-judge appeals court panel unanimously overturned.

While Kellogg permitted plaintiffs to swap shifts to avoid working their Sabbath, “The reasonableness of the shift-swapping accommodation, however, as well as the reasonableness of the combination of taking paid time off and swapping shifts, are critical disputed issues of material facts in this case that a jury must resolve,” said the appeals court ruling.

“There is evidence indicating that the universe of qualified employees with whom each Plaintiffs could swap shifts was quite limited,” said the ruling. “There is also disputed evidence as to how helpful Kellogg was in facilitating these swap arrangements.”

An employee has a duty to cooperate with his employer’s attempts to accommodate the employees’ religious practices, the ruling said. Kellogg contends the plaintiffs made no effort to use the accommodations it offered, “But plaintiffs provided evidence that they did make some attempts, for example, to work out approvable shift swaps.

“A jury will have to decide to what extent Plaintiffs attempted to use the accommodations Kellogg provided and whether any such efforts satisfied Plaintiffs’ reasonable duty to accommodate,” said the ruling, in remanding the case for further proceedings.