Shift swaps not necessarily “reasonable accommodation” for religious conflicts in schedule

Antoine v. First Student, Inc., No. 11-31126, 2013 WL 1457528, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 7273 (5th Cir. Apr. 10, 2013).

This is a religious accommodation case. Antoine was a bus driver for First Student operating for the Orleans Parish. Antoine never experienced a conflict with his religious observance of the Sabbath since he always completed his afternoon route on Fridays before sundown.  When Antoine moved to the Jefferson Parish the requirements of Route FS651 conflicted with Antoine’s religious beliefs. Once Daylight Savings Time ended on November 1, 2009, sunsets started occurring before Antoine’s shift ended on Fridays. When brought to First Student’s attention a history of meetings and attempts to find replacement drivers occurred along with some “misunderstood” instructions.  In the end, First Student terminated Antoine for not being available for the Friday route during part of the school year.  Antoine sued, but his claims were dismissed during the summary judgment phase. Antoine appealed.

The Fifth Circuit held that Antoine met his prima-facie burden and First Student had to establish its affirmative defense of “reasonable accommodation.”  First Student argued that under Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977) shift swaps and conditions under a collective bargaining agreement, when followed, are a reasonable accommodation (which is why the trial court granted the MSJ).  However, the Fifth Circuit held that summary judgment was not appropriate at this stage of the litigation because there are genuine disputes of material fact regarding the very nature of the purported accommodation, most of which center on what was and what was not permitted for shift swaps and who was responsible for finding replacements.  The factual history in this case can be helpful (especially for employers under a CBA) when trying to ascertain how to respond to a request for reasonable religious accommodation.

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