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Friday, April 19, 2013

No Religious Discrimination Where Employee Chose Layoff Over Reasonable Accommodation

In Robinson v. City of Oak Park, a City employee sued for religious discrimination after her position was eliminated following an arbitration ruling that placed a more senior employee in her community relations position.  The City offered her a position in the Clerk's office, but she claimed that certain duties relating to voting and domestic partnerships would conflict with her religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness. Subsequently, the City offered her a position in the parking permits office with the same salary and benefits.  Although the employee acknowledged that the second position did not conflict with her religion, she rejected the position because the office was hectic and not well run and insisted that the City reassign certain duties to reasonably accommodate her in the first position.  When the City refused, she sued the City for religious discrimination.  The circuit court ruled in favor of the City, finding that the employee had no viable claim for a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act.
On appeal, the appellate court considered the standards for proving religious discrimination.  First, the plaintiff must show that she was subjected to an adverse employment decision. Second, she must show that her job performance was satisfactory at the time the action was taken. Third, she must present evidence to support an inference that the adverse action was taken because of her religion.  If the employee can establish a prima facie case, then the burden shifts to the employer to establish a legitimate business reason for its action. The employee must rebut the business reason by showing it is not credible.
As an initial matter, the appellate court determined that no adverse action was taken against the employee because she chose to be laid off rather than accept the second clerk's position that would have reasonably accommodated her religion. The court emphasized that a reasonable accommodation is not one which is supposed to satisfy the employee's "every desire." Here, the employee admitted that the second position in the parking permits office did not conflict with her religious beliefs. Nevertheless, she rejected the reasonable accommodation offered by her employer, which resulted in her layoff. Because the court found that no adverse action was taken against the employee, she did not meet her burden of proving religious discrimination by the City.
Post authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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