Things were not so homey at Bradley Baker's place of employment. First hired as a full-time associate in the floor and wall department of Home Depot's store in Auburn, Massachusetts, Mr. Baker later transferred to a store in Henrietta, New York, to be closer to his then-fiancee. With her, he attended church services at the Gospel Fellowship Church and became "fully aware of the importance of the Sabbath" and of the biblical requirement that one refrain from work.
For about a year, several schedulers and supervisors configured his 40-hour work week so that Baker could have Sunday off. When a new supervisor, Colleen Vorndran, challenged Baker's refusal to work on Sundays, Baker informed Ms. Vorndran that Sunday was his "day of rest." Vorndran reportedly responded that Baker "needed to be more flexible and if [he] could not work on Sundays then [he] could not work there." Although Baker's name thereafter appeared on the Sunday work schedule, he called and advised his employer that he would not report to work on that day due to "religious reasons."
Vorndran is said to have offered Baker later shifts on Sundays (so that he could attend church) and, alternatively, presented him with the option of part-time employment (which would have resulted in a loss of employment benefits). Baker declined these choices and, when his Sunday-absences continued, was subsequently terminated.
Baker commenced a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York alleging religious discrimination in employment. In response to a motion for summary judgment, Bradley's case was dismissed on the grounds that the company's offer of a late shift on Sunday comprised a reasonable accommodation which circumvented liability under the law. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed citing, in part, that the shift change was "no accommodation at all" because it did not permit Baker "to abstain from work totally on Sundays."
In its decision, the Second Circuit examined the elements of a religious discrimination case and noted that claimants must establish that:
"(1) they held a bona fide religious belief conflicting with an employment requirement; (2) they informed their employers of this belief; and (3) they were disciplined for failure to comply with the conflicting employment requirement."Once triggered, the employer must then offer a "reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would cause the employer to suffer an undue hardship." Since "questions of fact" were left unresolved (e.g., whether Baker adequately informed Home Depot that his "religious convictions forbade work on Sundays"), and it was unclear whether an accommodation of Baker would pose an "undue hardship" on the company, the appellate court vacated the lower court's dismissal and remanded the case for further review by the District Court.
Think Home Depot's got a prayer?
For a copy of the Second Circuit's decision in Baker v. The Home Depot, please click on the following link:
[Note: Although Mr. Baker was self represented, briefs in support of his appeal were filed by the American Jewish Congress, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the United States Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.]