Appeals Court Upholds Firing Of Letter Carrier Who Refused To Work Saturdays For Religious Reasons

Decision from the United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, March 31, 2011
The accommodation requested by Harrell that he be given every Saturday as a scheduled day off would have violated the CBA, and the USPS was therefore not required under Title VII to grant Harrell’s request. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the USPS, and we affirm.

Hosea Harrell is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a former employee of the United States Postal Service (USPS). After being fired from his position with the post office in Warrensburg, Missouri, Harrell brought suit against the Postmaster General, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., (Title VII) for religious discrimination and failure to accommodate as well as a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb et seq., (RFRA). The district court2 granted summary judgment in favor of the USPS, and we affirm.

At all times relevant to this appeal, the Warrensburg Post Office was responsible for seven “bid routes” that required approximately eight hours to complete and one “auxiliary route” that took between five to eight hours to complete. To cover these routes Monday through Saturday, the Warrensburg Post Office employed seven full-time letter carriers, a full-time letter carrier technician, and three part-time flexible letter carriers.3 A minimum of seven letter carriers was required each day to complete the routes. Each full-time letter carrier was assigned to one of the bid routes with the technician and part-time letter carriers filling in on the various bid routes and the auxiliary route as needed.

According to a seniority system used by the Warrensburg Post Office, the six most junior full-time letter carriers and the technician had rotating schedules, working five days a week with every Sunday off and another rotating day off. As a result, each letter carrier with a rotating schedule was scheduled to be off work approximately every sixth Saturday. The only full-time letter carrier without a rotating schedule was the most senior letter carrier, who worked Monday through Friday with weekends off.

Many other scheduling details at the Warrensburg Post Office were expressly controlled by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the National Association of Letter Carriers—the union for city letter carriers working for the USPS—and the USPS. For example, the CBA controlled the process by which annual leave was granted. During “choice” vacation months,4 annual leave was awarded under a bidding system whereas annual leave outside the “choice” vacation months was awarded on a first-come basis. The CBA also permitted an employee to request “leave without pay” but did not specify the process by which the USPS granted such requests. Rather, according to the USPS Employee and Labor Relations Manual, leave without pay was granted at the discretion of the USPS, considering the needs of the employee, the needs of the USPS, and the cost to the USPS.

In November 2006, Harrell submitted a written request to James Carothers, Supervisor of Customer Services for the Warrensburg Post Office, requesting a religious accommodation to have every Saturday off because working at any time between sundown Friday to sundown Saturday conflicted with his religious beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. In January 2007, Harrell, Carothers, and a union representative met to discuss Harrell’s request. During this meeting, Harrell rejected the proposition that he be given leave for part of the day on Saturdays to attend church services and insisted that the only acceptable accommodation was that he receive every Saturday off. In February 2007, Carothers and Rick Hudson, Postmaster for the Warrensburg Post Office, asked each full-time letter carrier whether they would be willing to give up any of their non-scheduled Saturdays to accommodate another letter carrier. Each declined.

Shortly thereafter, Harrell submitted another written request for religious accommodation directly to Hudson. This request led to another meeting with Hudson, Carothers, and Harrell to discuss how the USPS could accommodate Harrell’s request. At this meeting, Hudson and Carothers told Harrell he could attempt to swap scheduled days off with other letter carriers. Additionally, Harrell was asked whether he was willing to make a lateral transfer to another office or to a different position within the USPS. Shortly after this meeting, Harrell informed Hudson and Carothers that he would not accept the options they suggested. Harrell also reiterated his position that the only satisfactory accommodation was that he be given every Saturday off and that he preferred to not use annual leave or leave without pay to achieve this accommodation.

On March 21, 2008, Harrell filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint with the USPS claiming he was discriminated against because of his religion when he received the three disciplinary suspensions. On July 24, 2008, the USPS issued a final decision denying Harrell’s claims and concluding that “the evidence does not support a finding that the complainant was subject to discrimination as alleged.” Harrell subsequently filed this action, claiming the USPS violated Title VII by discriminating against him because of his religion and by failing to accommodate his religious beliefs. Harrell also claimed the USPS violated RFRA by infringing on his ability to practice his religion without showing a compelling reason for doing so.

The district court granted the USPS’s motion for summary judgment. First, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the USPS on Harrell’s Title VII religious discrimination claim because, even assuming Harrell had proved a prima facie case for religious discrimination, the USPS had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for disciplining and ultimately firing Harrell when he failed to work his scheduled Saturday shifts. Second, the court also granted summary judgment in favor of the USPS on Harrell’s failure to accommodate claim because the court concluded the USPS would suffer an undue hardship if it was required to accommodate Harrell’s request. Third, the district court concluded Harrell could not bring an action under RFRA because Title VII is the exclusive remedy for a federal employee’s claim of employment discrimination. Harrell appeals the district court’s ruling only with respect to his Title VII failure to accommodate claim and his RFRA claim.

see full decision

Harrell Vs U.S. Postal Service

7 thoughts on “Appeals Court Upholds Firing Of Letter Carrier Who Refused To Work Saturdays For Religious Reasons

  1. The courts were absolutely correct in their decision to deny this case. Bravo!!!
    I agree….
    We had a carrier that refused to work on Saturday, He did not attend Church but said God told him not to work on Saturdays, He ended up with a good custodian job at the airport !!! now he works overtime on Saturdays when needed, go figure

  2. Anyone who applies for and accepts a position with the Postal Service is made well aware in advance of the requirement to work on any day of the week, including Saturdays. It is also well known that postal employees must wait many years to accumulate the seniority necessary to obtain weekends off. Since letter carriers don’t work on Sundays, this junior employee was attempting to circumvent the seniority provisions of the contract by acquiring highly desirable, consecutive non-scheduled days without putting in the necessary years of service. No one is compelled to accept a job that requires work on weekends, and this employee is free to seek employment elsewhere if he is not happy with the Postal Service. The courts were absolutely correct in their decision to deny this case. Bravo!

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