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No Retaliation for Applicant Who Requested Religious Accommodation

Emily Sure-Ondara is a Seventh Day Adventist and a nurse. She was encouraged by North Memorial to apply for its Advanced Beginner Program. She did and was invited to interview for a position in the Acute Care for Elderly Unit. Although that position required eight-hour shifts every other weekend under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Ms. Sure-Ondara did not disclose that she would be unable to work Friday evenings and Saturdays because of her religious beliefs. She was offered the job. When Ms. Sure-Ondara went in to complete the paperwork, she then disclosed that she would need to be accommodated because of her religious beliefs. North Memorial responded that she would have to work these shifts or they would withdraw the offer. She assured them that she would find someone to cover her. The company considered her suggestion and concluded that it was not possible for a new nurse in that unit to consistently cover those shifts and were concerned they would be short-handed. While North Memorial offered to consider her for other positions, she was not successful when she applied.
Ms. Sure-Ondara filed suit alleging religious discrimination and retaliation for requesting religious accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a Letter of Determination and filed suit only on the issue of retaliation.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals took up the case. In its decision, the court noted that Ms. Sure-Ondara likely could have proceeded on a claim for disparate treatment based on her religion under Title VII. She had been denied a position based on her religious observance and the employer would have had to demonstrate undue hardship. With regard to the retaliation claim, Ms. Sure-Ondara had to demonstrate that she opposed an unlawful practice. Per the court, she did not complain that North America refused to accommodate her, she requested an accommodation. That set of facts reflected disparate treatment and not retaliation. “[M]erely requesting a religious accommodation is not the same as opposing the allegedly unlawful denial of a religious accommodation claim.” Her request did not reflect opposition or resistance. Her case was dismissed.