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Eighth Circuit Weighs in on Religious Accommodations

By Brent Kettelkamp - Seaton, Peters & Revnew, P.A.

December 6, 2018

The Eighth Circuit recently held in EEOC v. North Memorial Health Care, 908 F.3d 1098 (8th Cir. 2018), that the hospital properly moved on to another candidate after the first candidate refused to perform an essential function of the job.  After receiving a conditional offer as a nurse, the plaintiff told North Memorial that as a Seventh Day Adventist, she could not work on Friday nights.  In response to the accommodation request, North Memorial indicated that the applicable CBA required her to be available to work on Fridays and ultimately decided to offer the job to a different candidate.  With the assistance of the EEOC, the plaintiff sued North Memorial for alleged discrimination.  The Eight Circuit ultimately agreed with the district court and held that, “North Memorial had a duty to attempt to accommodate her religious practice. But North Memorial presented evidence that it is not feasible to hire an untrained [nurse] … if the applicant will not work the collectively bargained schedule. There is no duty to accommodate an applicant or employee by hiring or transferring her into a position when she is unwilling or unable to perform one of its essential job functions.”

This case serves as a reminder to employers to ensure that the essential functions of an employee’s job are in writing in an up-to-date job description.  When an employee refuses to perform an essential function of the job, this can serve as a strong defense to a discrimination/failure to accommodate claim.

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