What is “reasonable religious accommodation” and when has an employer violated it?
A female Muslim flight attendant, employed by ExpressJet, Charee Stanley, has been suspended and threatened with termination for refusing to serve alcohol on the job. While serving food and beverages, including alcoholic ones, to passengers is part of the job description of a flight attendant, abstaining from both imbibing and serving alcohol is a tenet of the Muslim faith.
When two years ago, Ms. Stanley, already having been employed by ExpressJet for a year, converted to Islam, she approached her supervisor, requesting that accommodations be made to enable her to maintain her position while adhering to her religious beliefs. The supervisor told her to make arrangements for another attendant to take over the serving of alcoholic beverages, which she did. By all accounts, this arrangement worked well. Alcoholic beverages were served to those who requested them and Stanley remained comfortable in her work environment.
The peaceful atmosphere changed, however, when, months later, another flight attendant filed a complaint against Stanley, charging that she was not fulfilling her duties by refusing to serve alcohol. The employee, who has been accused by Stanley and her lawyer of Islamaphobia, also complained that Stanley had a book with “foreign writings” and wore a headdress.
Upon receiving this complaint, the airline sent a letter to Stanley stating that it was rescinding its religious accommodation and placing her on unpaid administrative leave. The airline further advised her that her employment might be terminated after 12 months.
In response to this action, Stanley has recently filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for the revocation of her prior “reasonable religious accommodation.” Stanley’s lawyer, Lena Masri, an attorney with the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has declared that “…no one should have to choose between their career and religion and it’s incumbent upon employers to provide a safe environment where employees feel they can practice their religion freely. We are requesting that her employment be reinstated and the accommodation of her religious beliefs be reinstated as well.”
According to Stanley and her attorney, the religious accommodation made for Stanley had been made at the explicit direction of the airline itself, had worked smoothly and without incident, and that, therefore, her employment, along with the previous minimal religious accommodations, should be reinstated.
A spokesman for ExpressJet has declined to discuss Stanley’s complaint on the grounds that the airline cannot discuss “personnel matters,” stating only that ExpressJet has a “long history of diversity in the workplace.”
If you are faced with discrimination or other problematic employment issues, please contact one of our highly skilled attorneys at Thomas M. Lancia. Dedicated to serving clients throughout the New York City area on civil litigation and small business matters, we can be reached at 212.964.3157.