7th Circuit revives workplace religious discrimination suit

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A Nigerian employee who asked his employer for time off work to attend his father’s burial rights and was fired when he returned is entitled to a day in court, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held Wednesday.

In Sikiru Adeyeye v. Heartland Sweeteners, LLC, 12-3820, Adeyeye “explained to Heartland that his participation in the funeral ceremonies was 'compulsory' and that if he failed to lead the burial rites, he and his family members would suffer at least spiritual death,” Judge David Hamilton wrote. “Heartland denied Adeyeye’s request, but he traveled to Nigeria for the ceremonies anyway. He was fired when he returned and reported to work.”

Judge William T. Lawrence of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment in favor of Heartland, holding that Adeyeye’s written letters asking for time off did not present evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find he provided notice of the religious nature of his request for unpaid leave.

“We disagree,” Hamilton wrote for the court. “Whether or not Adeyeye’s letters might have justified holding as a matter of law that they provided sufficient notice of the religious nature of his request (a question we do not decide), they certainly are sufficient to present a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Heartland had notice of the religious nature of the request. We also find that genuine issues of material fact prevent us from affirming summary judgment on any of the other grounds argued by Heartland.”

Heartland also argued that Adeyeye’s Title VII complaint lacked evidence that religious observance or practice was the cause of his termination, presented an undue hardship, or that his beliefs were sincerely held.

“We reverse the district court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”



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