What is an Employer's Obligation to Provide an Employee with a Religious Accommodation under Title VII?

On March 31, 2021, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of an employer in a lawsuit in which the EEOC alleged that an employer failed to accommodate a prospective employee's religious practices, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII").  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Walmart Stores East, L.P. and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 20-1419 (7th Cir. March 31, 2021).  After receiving a job offer of full-time assistant manager, the prospective employee, a Seventh-day Adventist, indicated that he could not work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.

The prospective employer then invited the prospective employee to apply for an hourly management position that would not require him to work during his Sabbath.  The prospective employer argued that its invitation to apply for an hourly management position satisfied its its duty to accommodate his religious practices.  It also contended that any greater obligation would yield an undue hardship as that term was understood in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 84 (1977), in which the Supreme Court stated that "To require [an employer] to bear more than a de minimis cost in order to give [an employee] Saturdays off is an undue hardship."

The district court ruled that an hourly management job would have been a reasonable accommodation, even though it paid less than the assistant manager position.  The prospective employer made an offer that could have put the prospective employee in a management job without working on the Sabbath, but he wanted an assistant manager position and nothing less.

The EEOC filed a failure-to-accommodate lawsuit on its own behalf in this matter.  The EEOC contended that the prospective employer could have offered the prospective employee several accommodations that would have enabled him to be an assistant manager.  One would have been to give him that job, but let him trade shifts with other assistant managers.  However, that would not constitute an accommodation by the employer within the meaning of Title VII.  This would have thrust on other employees the need to accommodate his religious beliefs, which is not what Title VII requires.  The Supreme Court in Hardison addressed and rejected the sort of shift-trading system that the EEOC proposed.  The Supreme Court held that Title VII does not require an employer to offer an accommodation that comes at the expense of other employees.  The EEOC also proposed the assignment of the prospective employee to the 4-day-12-hour shift to ensure that it never included Fridays or Saturdays.  However, again, this really amounted to a proposal to require more weekend work by the other assistant managers, without their approval.  The burden of accommodating a religious practice under Title VII falls on the employer, not other employees.  Because accommodating his religious practices would have required the prospective employer to bear more than a slight burden, and because Title VII does not place the burden of accommodation on other employees, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's decision.  Judge Rovner dissented.