Some [Minnesota] Muslim cashiers had declined to scan products such as bacon because doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs. They would ask other cashiers to ring up such purchases, or some customers scanned the items themselves.
Minneapolis-based Target Corp. (TGT) has offered the cashiers the option of wearing gloves, shifting to other positions or transferring to other stores.
"We are confident that this is a reasonable solution for our guests and team members," Target spokeswoman Paula Thornton-Greear said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press on Saturday.
Is this a fair compromise? Yes. Religion-workplace law essentially dictates that employers must make "reasonable accommodations" for their employees' religious beliefs. Federal law mandates this for employers with over 15 workers; however, individual state laws may add further stipulations.
If an employer claims that he cannot accommodate an employee (or employees), he would have to demonstrate that the potential accommodation would harm his business. And, the employer does not have to agree to an accommodation asked for by an employee. (Ansonia Board of Education v. Philbrook, 479 U.S. 60 ). Target's accommodations are clearly reasonable; wearing gloves or taking a different position within a store certainly fall into the "reasonable" criteria. (I'm a bit confused, however, about how "transferring to another store" would solve the issue at hand.) If I were the manager of a Target where some of my cashiers were asking customers to check some items themselves and/or requesting other cashiers to handle certain items, I'd absolutely make use of the above accommodations. The two "pre-accommodation" options utilized by the Muslim cashiers are obviously bad for business. And Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977), would back up my position as it noted "that an employer need not incur more than minimal costs in order to accommodate an employee’s religious practices." (My emphasis.) However, one recent development -- the "Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2005" -- seems to be in conflict with this, but is unlikely to hinder Target's accommodation plan. Under this amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the definition of "undue [employer] hardship" says
... an accommodation requiring significant difficulty or expense. For purposes of determining whether an accommodation requires significant difficulty or expense, factors to be considered in making the determination shall include--
(A) the identifiable cost of the accommodation, including the costs of loss of productivity and of retraining or hiring employees or transferring employees from 1 facility to another;
(B) the overall financial resources and size of the employer involved, relative to the number of its employees; and
(C) for an employer with multiple facilities, the geographic separateness or administrative or fiscal relationship of the facilities.
Supreme Court precedent is usually likely to prevail over recent law, though. Usually, that is.
Suhara Robla, who works at a SuperTarget, told the Star Tribune newspaper that more than a dozen Muslim cashiers were asked Thursday to do other jobs.
"They told all of us who don't touch pork to go to the sales floor," she told the newspaper. "They really didn't say why. They just said it was a new policy."
Well, if you're refusing to check pork products at the register, what do you think, Ms. Robla? And, of course it's a new policy -- it's a new policy designed to meet your religious needs. If you are unhappy with the "accommodation," it seems you have two options: Find another job, or you can file a lawsuit claiming Target's accommodations were "unreasonable." But you'll likely lose. As noted previously, an employer does not have to agree to an employee's wish for accommodation, just as long as the employment modification meets the "reasonable" standard.
Minnesota witnessed something similar back in September. Some Muslim taxi drivers were refusing to drive patrons who were carrying alcohol products. That case would be more difficult to "accomodate" as there's no other position to "move to" like at a retail store such as Target. That, and taxis would seem to fall under the realm of "public accommodation" (say, like a hotel) where people cannot be discriminated against -- in this case for carrying around a quite legal product. The airports commission there recommended "color-coding the lights on the taxi roofs" to note whether or not a taxi would accept those carrying alcohol. This seems reasonable to me; however, what if the majority of taxis available have the no-alcohol color on top -- thus leaving passenger(s) stranded for an inordinate amount of time? The Anti-Defamation League website notes that a [potential] employee "should" inform the employer "about the religious commitment at the time the job is accepted or immediately upon becoming observant if he or she becomes more observant while employed." I am curious if the Muslim cab drivers -- and the Target employees -- made their employers so aware.
In another interesting case, Albert Buonanno was axed from his job because he refused "to compromise his religiously-based belief that the homosexual lifestyle is wrong." His employer, AT&T, did not attempt to accommodate Buonanno's beliefs, however. And, it seems they "discovered" Albert's views when they mandated that he (and other employees, I assume) sign a statement that "he 'respected and valued' different 'sexual orientations' in the workplace." The article doesn't detail how Buonanno's views would have affected his work, let alone whether it would ever have been an issue at all.
A federal court ruled in Buonanno's favor.