Sunday, August 31, 2014

5th Circuit: Religious Accommodation Turns On Employee's Personal Sincere Beliefs

In Davis v. Fort Bend County, (5th Cir., Aug. 26, 2014), in a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in a Title VII religious accommodation case held that employee Lois Davis, a county desktop support supervisor, had arguably acted out of religious belief when she absented herself from working on Sunday on a move into a new courthouse building in order to attend a special church ground breaking and community service event.  The district court had granted summary judgment to defendant holding that "being an avid and active member of church does not elevate every activity associated with that church into a legally protectable religious practice." The majority in the Court of Appeals concluded, however, that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Davis had a sincere religious belief that she needed to attend church on that Sunday:
 A showing of sincerity ... does not require proof that the July 3rd church event was in itself a true religious tenet, but only that Davis sincerely believed it to be religious in her own scheme of things.
The majority also concluded that there is a genuine factual issue as to whether allowing an available substitute to work Davis' shift would have created undue hardship. Judge Smith dissented.