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Company must face fired worker’s religion discrimination claim

May 11, 2017

A company that admitted a worker should not have been fired must defend against his claims that he was discriminated against because of his religious beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Columbus-based NTN Driveshaft Inc. denies that a human resources manager fired Jeffrey L. Jackson for unlawful or discriminatory reasons, instead insisting that the firing was based on the manager’s honest belief that Jackson had violated NTN’s attendance policy.

Jackson sought and obtained a religious accommodation from the company’s requirement that he work overtime Saturday shifts. He was exempted from those shifts as long as he could find a replacement to cover for him. As practice of his religion, Jackson observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.  

After a year on the job, Jackson was fired for what NTN said were excessive absences — two were for his Sabbath shifts, one was not.

Jackson sued, claiming failure to accommodate, religious discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Judge Richard Young in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana on Wednesday rejected NTN’s motion for summary judgment.

“Because a reasonable jury could return a verdict for Jackson on each claim, NTN’s motion must be denied,” Young wrote in Jeffrey L. Jackson v. NTN Driveshaft Inc., 1:15-cv-1321. Young wrote it’s undisputed that Jackson maintained a sincere religious practice that conflicted with an employment requirement. But it is disputed between the parties whether the manager who fired Jackson had reliable attendance records or whether Jackson had even used up his occasional absence time.

Jackson also claims two direct supervisors disparaged his religion, asking whether it was “occult,” and telling him he needed to “make NTN (his) religion” and “worship on the right day,” among other things. NTN argues the court should disregard the comments because they didn’t come from the human resources manager who fired Jackson.

But Young noted Jackson claims he was fired after those direct supervisors reported to the HR manager that he was absent without a replacement, even though Jackson says he did have a substitute filling in for him. This is another disputed claim a jury must decide, Young wrote.

Likewise, “Jackson has marshaled enough evidence to convince a jury that NTN retaliated against him,” Young wrote, because his termination came just days after his second request for accommodation.
 

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