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Seventh Circuit Sheds Light on Reasonable Accommodations for an Employee's Religion

By Jonathan M. Boulahanis / Nov 16, 2012

In Porter v. City of Chicago, No. 11-2006 (Decided November 8, 2012), the Seventh Circuit upheld a district court's ruling granting summary judgment for the employer, the City of Chicago, in a Title VII action. The decision, authored by Circuit Judge Bauer, affirmed district judge Virginia Kendall's opinion that the employee was offered reasonable accommodations for her religious needs by the City.

Ms. Porter was a Senior Data Entry Specialist for the City of Chicago in the Field Services Section of the records department for the Chicago Police Department.  The data specialists are civilian employees that process information into electronic databases, such as processing the location about towed, stolen, or repossessed vehicles. The Field Services Section operates twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week.

Ms. Porter, who identified herself as Christian, attends church services, bible studies, and prayer services at the Apostolic Church of God.  She would attend church services every Sunday, as well as church related events on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights. It was undisputed that church services were held on Sunday at 9:00 am, 11:45 am, and sometimes 4:00 pm.

Ms. Porter, who prior to 2005 had Sunday and Monday shifts off, was switched based on a need in her division at the time to the Friday and Saturday shifts off.  She requested an accommodation so that she could attend her church services on Sunday. She requested to be switched back to the group with Sundays and Mondays off.  The City did not grant her request, but instead offered to change Porter to a later watch on Sundays starting at 3 pm, to put her at the top of the list to reassign her to Sundays and Mondays off, and to ask for volunteers in the Field Services Section to switch off day groups with Porter.

Porter filed suit alleging that the reassignment of her off days violated Title VII because it failed to accommodate her religious practices and discriminated against her based on her religion. The City moved for summary judgment arguing that they attempted to reasonably accommodate Porter.

The Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court that the City attempted to reasonably accommodate Porter by offering to change her shift time on Sundays. The Court held that the offer to assign Porter to a later shift on Sunday was sufficient accommodation for purposes of Title VII where the assignment would allow Porter to attend morning church services without affecting her pay or benefits. The Seventh Circuit cited the Supreme Court decision in Ansonia v. Bd. Of Educ. v. Philbrook, 479 U.S. 60,70, 107 S.Ct. 367, 93 L.Ed.2d 305 (1986) and held that Title VII is meant to ensure that an individual can observe religious practices, but is not meant to mandate an employer to grant every accommodation at all costs.

The fact that plaintiff wanted entire Sundays off as her preferred accommodation did not mandate a different result. In fact the Seventh Circuit's holding cites the Supreme Court's decision in Philbrook, where the Supreme Court held that the accommodation need not be preferred accommodation to the employee, but only needs to reasonably "eliminate the conflict between employment requirements and religious practices." Philbrook, 479 U.S. at 70.

The safest way to avoid prolonged litigation about whether Title VII accommodations are reasonable is to consult with your Labor and Employment specialists at Clark Hill.  If you have any questions about reasonable accommodations, Title VII, or allegations of discrimination in the workplace, please contact Jonathan Boulahanis at (312) 985-5930 or jboulahanis@clarkhill.com , L. Steven Platt at (312) 985-5943 or splatt@clarkhill.com , or any other member of Clark Hill's Labor and Employment group.

The full opinion can be accessed here http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/N80LG7TV.pdf