The religious bias case of the Jehovah’s Witness officer who refused to use a gun

Ok, technically, he was a “parking services officer.” But, he was working in a police department. And when you work in a police department as an officer, the odds are that you’ll need some weapons training.

Well, cue the jump where we learn whether a police department has to accommodate the religious beliefs of a Jehovah’s Witness who refuses weapons training….

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Westbrook v. North Carolina A&T State involved a plaintiff who is a Jehovah’s Witness. I don’t know much about that religion except for what I’ve learned from watching the movie Friday.  But, since linking to that clip with Ice Cube and Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son would be in bad taste, and probably cost me my job, I’ll merely recount here what I learned from the Westbrook case. That is, because of his religion, the plaintiff does not celebrate Christmas, birthdays, and does not carry weapons.

But then there was that working for a Police Department thing.

You see, in 2006, the defendant reassigned the plaintiff to the police department, where he was assigned to work as a parking services officer. And, two years after his transfer, the Chief of Police decided to enforce the general order requiring weapons training and the carrying of weapons. The plaintiff inquired about getting out of weapons training, but, no dice. Ultimately, the defendant claimed that it fired the plaintiff because of his refusal to participate in weapons training.

The plaintiff then sued for religious discrimination and now I’m talking about it on this dumb blog.

Among the claims in the plaintiff’s lawsuit was a failure to accommodate his religious beliefs. Title VII requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious observances of its employees, unless it would create an undue hardship. A religious accommodation undue hardship is something more than a de minimis cost. That’s Latin-speak for having to lift anything more than a finger to help out.

Here, the plaintiff requested a transfer to a vacant position, of which he claimed that there were several available. So, all that the defendant had to do was produce evidence that there were no suitable openings. Except it didn’t. Instead, the defendant argued that it was unsure, based on the plaintiff’s personnel file, whether the plaintiff was qualified for such positions.

Does that sound stupid to you? It does to me. And it did to the Court. Defendant’s summary judgment motion denied!

Don’t make the same mistake. I’ve talked about how to address religious-accommodation requests before. For more on that, check out this post.

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