Employees recently sued their employer, Gate Gourmet, in a class action lawsuit.
Gate Gourmet provides meals for trains and planes at SeaTac Airport in Seattle, including kosher and hallal meals. The employees alleged that their employer’s employee meal policy violated their religious beliefs. The employer prevented employees from bringing in their own food for lunch for purported security reasons or from leaving the premises to buy food. The only food that employees were able to eat at work was employer-provided food. Gate Gourmet serves three meals a day for employees.
The employees allege that the employer’s meal options forced them to either violate their religious beliefs, or to work without food. Fifty-eight of the employees had special diets, including Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims.
For example, the employees allege that the employer used animal by-products in the vegetarian option. Moreover, some of the employees’ religions prevented them from eating beef and/or pork, so Gate Gourmet switched to turkey for the meat-based option. However, the employees allege that Gate Gourmet switched back from turkey to beef and pork without telling them. This caused some employees to accidentally and without knowing violate their religious beliefs. One employee in particular who is Hindu said that he unknowingly ate beef, and needs to travel to India for a cleansing ritual that lasts 10 days, according to the tenants of the Hindu religion.
Initially, the lower court dismissed the case. However, on appeal the Washington Supreme Court found that state law required the employer’s to reasonably accommodate the employees’ religious practices. The employer may be liable for damages related to the legal violation.
State and federal law require that employers reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and practices. If a reasonable accommodation would be a burden on the employer, however, the employer isn’t required to provide that accommodation. What constitutes a reasonable accommodation depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. In this situation, it may be an undue burden to allow each employee to leave the work site to purchase food or to bring in outside food. There are a lot of safety concerns in the airline business, and it may not be safe to allow employees to leave or bring in outside foods.
However, it will probably be determined that it would be considered a reasonable accommodation to provide meal options that are acceptable to employees’ religious beliefs. The employer worked in the food industry, and already provided kosher and hallal meals to travelers. It would probably not be considered too much of a burden on the employer to require it make those meals available to employees as well.
Each case involving religious discrimination and reasonable accommodations in the workplace is very fact-dependent. If you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace because of your religion, harassed because of your religion, or that your religious rights have been violated at work, it’s important that you contact a skilled and knowledgeable employment attorney as quickly as possible. You may have the right to seek compensation for your emotional damages, back pay and benefits, and more.
If you are in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay area and have experienced religious discrimination in the workplace, call Micha Star Liberty, religious discrimination attorney. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that no employer should get away with discriminating against an employee on the basis of religion. Liberty Law works with clients throughout the San Francisco area, including Oakland, Hayward, Tracy, Fairfield, Berkeley, San Jose, and the surrounding areas. Call Liberty Law today at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000.