Thursday, March 24, 2011

19-Days Off for Hajj as a Religious Accommodation - COTW #33

This week's employment law Case of the Week is a religious accommodation case filed in the Northern District of Illinois by the Department of Justice. DOJ brought the suit on behalf of Safoorah Khan, a former math lab school teacher who requested 19 days off to perform a Hajj. A Hajj is a pilgrimage required by Islam. Her request was denied and she notified the Board that she was leaving her position to take the trip.

The Washington Post had a nice article on this case earlier in the week. It highlights some of the political controversy surrounding the case. But, at its heart, this is a pretty straightforward accommodation case. Under Title VII, an employer has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations for the sincerely held religious beliefs of its employees.

But, what is a classic defense in accommodation claims? Undue hardship. And, per the article at least, it looks like the school has an argument:
The school district, faced with losing its only math lab instructor during the critical end-of-semester marking period, said no.
19 days is a lot of time, and it sounds like she plays a unique role and the request fell at a particularly important time. Of course, you never know for sure which way the litigation is going to go, and there are plenty of other potential issues to consider. I'll let you know if I hear of any developments in this one.

Check out the Complaint provided courtesy of Eugene Volokh, who was quoted in the article, and he also has some nice analysis on his blog, Volokh Conspiracy.

UPDATE (10/15/2011): This case settled, read details here.

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.