Hadas Goldfarb is suing New York Presbyterian Hospital and the FDNY for religious discrimination, which Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, expressly prohibits. Goldfarb claims in her lawsuit that her employer fired her instead of providing her with a reasonable accommodation for her religious practices.
The hospital hired Goldfarb, an Orthodox Jewish woman, as a paramedic. At her orientation, the hospital gave her an employee manual where she learned about the FDNY dress code for paramedics. The dress code specifically prohibited wearing a skirt. Goldfarb claims that she approached a supervisor and explained that she does not wear pants because of her religious beliefs.
She asked for an accommodation that would allow her to wear a skirt, as she claims she did at her previous job as an emergency responder in Cleveland, OH. The hospital refused to grant her an exception to their policy and immediately terminated her employment. As reported by the New York Daily News, Goldfarb’s lawsuit states that the hospital fired her for “refusing to compromise her religious principles.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm
Title VII also imposes an additional duty on the employer when it comes to an individual’s religious beliefs and practices. When asked, an employer must accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs or practices of a job applicant or employee unless to do so would impose an undue hardship. Typical religious accommodations can include allowing break time for daily prayers, making schedule changes so someone may observe a religious holiday or excusing a worker from performing a task that offends his or her beliefs.
Requests for religious accommodations often involve exceptions to dress codes and grooming rules in the workplace. In response to the frequency of such requests, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) created a guide called “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities” and a fact sheet to help explain the issues.
Just think about how many religious practices and beliefs involve clothing. For instance, a company with a policy that prohibits headwear at work may be asked for a reasonable accommodation from a Jewish employee who wears a traditional skullcap or a Muslim woman who wears a hijab. Grooming is also part of many religious beliefs. Some religious practices forbid shaving or require that individuals grow their hair.
Once an employee makes a request, the employer does not have to make the accommodation if it will pose an undue hardship. If it posed an undue hardship, it would not be reasonable. According to the EEOC, a religious accommodation may pose undue hardship if it “would cause more than de minimis cost on the operation of the employer’s business.”
The cost, however, is not only monetary. Any analysis must include “the burden on the conduct of the employer’s business. For example, courts have found undue hardship where the accommodation diminishes efficiency in other jobs, infringes on other employees’ job rights or benefits, impairs workplace safety, or causes co-workers to carry the accommodated employee’s share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work. Whether the proposed accommodation conflicts with another law will also be considered.” https://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda_religion.html
Goldfarb claims that the hospital told her that the FDNY dress code for paramedics, which they must abide by, forbids them from wearing skirts because they create safety issues. If this is the defense, it will have to show that allowing a paramedic to wear a skirt poses an undue hardship on the employer. Some questions to answer may include: Does wearing a skirt cause a paramedic to fall and become seriously injured? Does wearing a skirt cut down on response time or somehow interfere with job performance? Is there some other reason as to why the hospital requires pants only? Can the parties compromise and find a suitable alternative accommodation?
Proving undue hardship, in this case, seems unlikely, at least without additional information from the Defendants in the case.
Goldfarb is asking the court to grant her an award of $25,000 for religious discrimination and reinstatement to her job as a paramedic.
If you requested a reasonable accommodation for your religious practices or beliefs, and your employer denied it, consider contacting discrimination attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C., representing employees in New York City, Long Island and the surrounding counties. Religious discrimination violates Title VII and New York State law. If you lost your job for a discriminatory reason or as punishment for exercising your rights, you might have an unlawful retaliation claim in addition to one for religious discrimination.
Learn more about your claim by calling Leeds Brown today at 1-800-585-4658.