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Is Religious Accommodation a Protected Activity?

Whether religious accommodation is a protected activity depends largely on where an employer is located. A federal court in Minnesota recently tackled the question for the first time in the Eighth Circuit, ruling that asking for accommodation is not a protected activity.

In EEOC v. North Memorial Health Care, the applicant had applied for a position and received a conditional offer of employment. As part of the job, she was required work every other weekend. However, as a Seventh Day Adventist, she could not work on Friday nights. She offered to find a substitute for those evenings. Human resources responded that she had to work Friday nights and rescinded the job offer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit on her behalf, alleging a claim of retaliation for requesting religious accommodation.

For a Title VII retaliation claim to succeed, the applicant had to show that she was engaged in a protected activity. The federal district court noted the lack of precedent on this issue in the Eighth Circuit. Title VII protects an employee’s opposition to a perceived unlawful practice. In reviewing the plain language of the statute, the court could not find any support for the EEOC’s position that requesting accommodation was opposing an unlawful practice.  “Merely requesting a religious accommodation is not the same as opposing the allegedly unlawful denial of a religious accommodation,” according to the district court. This Minnesota district court noted that districts courts have differed on this issue across the country. The court would not consider ADA precedent on the question because its language on retaliation was much broader than the language of Title VII, reflecting an intention by Congress to offer broader protection under the ADA.