Posted on November 17, 1998 In Press Releases

Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – through its Institute for Public Affairs – announced that it was joining in a legal brief urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to require an employer to accommodate the religious needs of a sabbath observant employee.

The friend-of-the court brief was drafted by Washington, DC attorney Nathan Lewin on behalf of the Commission on Law and Public Affairs, the Orthodox Union and a coalition of Orthodox organizations in the case of Balint v. Carson City, Nevada.

The case arises from the request of a Seventh Day Adventist, Lisette Balint, an applicant offered a position with the Carson City Sheriff’s Department that the Department accommodate her religious practice of not working from sundown Friday through Saturday by exempting her from the Department’s seniority-based work-shift assignment system.

The Department refused to her accommodate Ms. Balint’s religious needs. Ms. Balint sued the Department under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for religious discrimination. The district court ruled against Ms. Balint, holding that the Department was not obliged to accommodate her since ignoring the seniority system would constitute an “undue hardship” for the employer.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld this ruling, holding that a seniority-based work-shift system is, per se, a defense to religious accommodation claims. The entire Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will rehear this case en banc on Thursday.

Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs, issued the following statement:

The Orthodox community joins with many American religious communities in calling upon the federal courts to begin the process of ending this kind of discrimination against religious citizens. Our society is eager to accommodate all kinds of needs that employees might have – whether to care for children or parents or other secular personal needs – but continues to discriminate against the religious needs of many otherwise valued employees.

It is time for this discrimination to stop.

We plan to work in the next Congress to address this issue legislatively by securing the passage of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. We hope the Ninth Circuit will begin the process of ending discrimination against religious person in the workplace now by ruling in favor of Ms. Balint.