Court Explains Dismissal of Religious Discrimination (Including Failure to Accommodate) Claims

In White v. Andy Frain Servs., Inc., No. 14-3332-CV, 2015 WL 6684485 (2d Cir. Nov. 3, 2015), the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s (a black Jewish man) employment discrimination claims.

Plaintiff “assert[ed] that Andy Frain discriminated against him by failing to give him a raise, providing unequal terms and conditions of employment, retaliating against him for assisting a co-worker’s discrimination case, and maintaining a hostile work environment” and that “during his employment, his supervisor made several discriminatory remarks.”

Initially, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s employment discrimination claims, finding that “[m]ost of the actions that White complains of do not qualify as adverse employment actions.” For example, plaintiff “complain[ed] that he was paid late, denied certain vacation requests, and forced to work overtime when his replacement did not show up.” The court held that “[t]hese troubles are no more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities.”

As to plaintiff’s claim that he was denied a discretionary raise, the court noted that plaintiff “admits that he sought a pay increase for all tennis center employees, that none received an increase, and that he was unaware of and did not specifically apply for any other open positions.” Therefore, there was “no evidence of an adverse employment action — discretionary or otherwise — taken against White.”

Next, the court ruled that the comments upon which plaintiff based his claims were non-actionable “stray remarks”:

Even assuming that adverse employment actions occurred, no rational factfinder could find that Andy Frain took those actions because of White’s protected characteristics. White alleges that his supervisor made several off-color comments over the course of a year and a half about him being black and Jewish. But a rational factfinder could not reasonably find a causal connection between these remarks and any employment action of which he complains. Without some causal connection, these off-color comments were no more than stray remarks. And stray remarks, without other indicia of discrimination, are not enough. This record lacks those indicia.

Finally, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s failure-to-accommodate-religious-beliefs claims. Under the law, specifically 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j),

[an] employer has a duty to offer a reasonable accommodation for all aspects of religious observance and practice once notified by the employee. A plaintiff thus makes out a prima facie case by proving (1) he has a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement, (2) he informed the employer of the belief, and (3) he was disciplined for failure to comply with the requirement.

State and City laws provide similar protections.

The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that defendant failed to reasonably accommodate his religious beliefs by denying his vacation request, explaining:

By [plaintiff]’s own deposition testimony, he never advised Andy Frain that his Jewish faith conflicted with his ability to work. He stated only that he wanted vacation to “coincide closely with the Passover” and that he “basically would like” that to happen. He never suggested that he was unable to work on Passover. Moreover, even assuming that Andy Frain knew of a religious conflict, nothing in the record suggests that Andy Frain punished White for failing to comply with the employment requirement.