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Verrill Dana, LLP

Verrill Dana, LLP is one of New England's preeminent regional law firms. With offices in Portland and Augusta, ME; Boston, MA; Westport, CT; Providence, RI; and Washington D.C. Verrill Dana provides sophisticated legal representation to businesses and individuals in the traditional areas of litigation, real estate, business law, labor and employment law, employee benefits, environmental law, intellectual property and estate planning.  The Firm also has industry-focused specialties including higher education, health care and health technology, energy, and timberlands. 

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Entries in Religious Discrimination (9)


Belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster Does Not Confer Religious Protections Under the Law

On Monday, Stephen comes into work dressed like a pirate. As his employer, you think this is strange, and maybe pushing the limits of the dress code, but there are other more important things on your plate, so you decide to deal with it later. On Tuesday, Stephen is again dressed like a pirate, and this time he is also wearing a colander on his head. Before you have a chance to remind Stephen that the dress code prohibits hats (to the extent a colander could be considered a hat), Stephen approaches you and tells you that he will no longer be working on Fridays because he is a Pastafarian, a member of the religion FSMism (Flying Spaghetti Monster-ism), and under FSMism every Friday is a religious holiday. After a quick Google search, you also learn that wearing pirate garb and a colander are practices of FSMism. Do you have to tolerate Stephen’s new wardrobe and grant his request for Fridays off as a religious accommodations?

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Hospital Shows Undue Hardship in Permitting Employee who Refused Influenza Vaccination to Maintain Patient-Care Position

Earlier this month, a District of Massachusetts court issued an opinion which held in part that that a hospital’s refusal to permit an employee to maintain a patient-care position after refusing an influenza vaccination on account of religious beliefs was proper. The plaintiff in the matter was an administrative associate in the emergency department and was typically one of the first people to interact with patients and family members handling intake, registration, and affixing patient identification bracelets—thus requiring her to touch and be in close proximity to patients. The hospital notified employees that employees working in patient-care areas needed to be vaccinated for influenza. The plaintiff refused the vaccine, alleging that her “religion had a moratorium on all vaccinations.”

While the hospital did question whether the plaintiff had a sincerely held religious belief, the court did not focus on this argument and instead found that the hospital had attempted to reasonably accommodate the plaintiff by providing her with the opportunity to move to a non-patient-care position and that allowing her to maintain her position without the influenza vaccination would have been an undue hardship.

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When It Is Not A Laughing Matter

While this blog does attempt to bring humor to employment law, we by no means make light of the difficult issues that corporations are faced with when interacting with employees. This blog post will not be filled with puns or YouTube videos, but instead will focus on the events of the last week.

Over the last week society has been inundated with information from a wide variety of sources concerning ISIS, National Security, and a compelling mixture of tangentially related topics. Many people have “defriended,” “unfollowed,” or otherwise tweeted their displeasure with acquaintances' views on immigration, Paris, Beirut, terrorism, and other related topics. These are not issues that should, or even could, be disregarded or hidden, but they are also topics that bring with them a host of employment issues when they are discussed in the workplace, specifically national origin and race.

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“Mark of the Beast” Does Not Leave Its Mark on the High Court

Yesterday the Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari in Yeager v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp., No. 14-1302 (cert. denied 10/5/2015), the case we previously brought to your attention in which an Ohio court found that an applicant’s refusal to provide a social security number because it would “cause him to have the ‘Mark of the Beast’ which his religion prohibits” was an insufficient allegation to maintain a claim of religious discrimination. Earlier this year, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the Ohio court’s decision that the employer’s refusal to hire him did not amount to religious discrimination. See Yeager v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp., 777 F.3d 362 (6th Cir. 2015). The Supreme Court’s refusal to grant certiorari allows employers to rest assured that insofar as an employee argues that their refusal to provide a social security number because of his or her fundamentalist Christian belief that the number is the “Mark of the Beast,” will not result in liablity in the Sixth Circuit for a claim of religious discrimination.


In the Name of Religion

No matter the faith or belief, religion makes its way into the work environment more often than one would expect. This week’s headlines serve as a prime example of that.

Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses after the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage, has taken on a public and political spotlight. While there are criminal and social implications to her behavior, at the root of her actions, it is an employment issue. Ms. Davis’s job duties included the signing of marriage licenses. In fact, Ms. Davis’s office was the only location in the county at which individuals could apply for marriage licenses. Thus, the signing of marriage licenses would appear to have been an essential function of her job. Like any essential function, if the individual who is currently employed in that position cannot perform the essential functions with a reasonable accommodation, then he or she is not qualified for the position. In Ms. Davis’s situation one may argue that someone else could sign the marriage license. An employer, however, has no duty to transfer an essential function of the position to another employee. If they do, however, the function quickly becomes no longer essential to the position.

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High Court Demands Higher Obligation When Dealing With Highest Power: EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.

Today the Supreme Court issued a decision in the highly anticipated case of EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch. Background on the case is available here, as is access to the “look policy” which we originally discussed here. The question before the Court involved whether the employer or the employee had an affirmative duty to determine whether a religious accommodation may be necessary to accommodate an applicant’s religious practices or observations. In the Abercrombie case, the interviewee wore a headscarf to her interview which violated Abercrombie’s “look policy” which did not allow “hats” at work.

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