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DOJ Sues Lansing, MI For Religious Discrimination

The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has filed suit against the City of Lansing, Michigan (“Lansing”). The DOJ alleges that Lansing failed to provide Sylvia Coleman with a reasonable accommodation of her religion. Coleman is a Seventh Day Adventist whose religion required a Sabbath observance from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday.

Coleman applied for the position of Detention Officer with the police department. The job description stated applicants had to be available to work "any day of the week or any hours of the day without restriction." When completing the work availability section, Coleman did not mark the box next to Saturday to indicate that she was unavailable to work that day. Coleman said she also notified Lansing during the interview process that she could not work on Friday evenings and Saturdays during the day. Lansing offered Coleman the position and assigned Coleman to a Saturday shift shortly after her hire. Coleman told her supervisor that she could not work on Saturday because of her religious observance. In a meeting with Coleman, human resources, and her supervisor after she refused to work, Lansing terminated Coleman's employment.

Lansing has responded publicly, asserting that it has not done anything wrong. The city attorney stated Coleman applied for a position that explicitly stated employees must be able to work all shifts required by the job. In addition, Lansing asserted it cooperated with the DOJ during its four-year investigation and has "robust" anti-discrimination policies to accommodate religious beliefs. Lansing asserted it intends to "vigorously defend" against the DOJ's lawsuit.