- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a detention officer in Lansing, Michigan, who was fired when her religious observance clashed with city official’s scheduling.

Department attorneys filed the religious discrimination lawsuit July 15 on behalf of Sylvia Coleman against the city of Lansing in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

The suit alleges that city managers knew that Ms. Coleman, a Seventh-day Adventist, would be unavailable for work shifts between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday and that a supervisor offered her the job despite knowing of this specification.

“Religious discrimination and intolerance have no place in the workplace today,” Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

“Employees should not have to choose between their religion and their livelihood, particularly when the employer can accommodate their religious beliefs,” Ms. Clarke added. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the religious rights and religious freedom of employees by ensuring that no one faces unlawful discrimination in the workplace.”

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Coleman was fired two days after starting the job on June 18, 2018, when she told her supervisors that she could not work a Friday-Saturday shift because she observes the time period as the Sabbath, citing her Seventh-day Adventist faith.

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The city counters that Ms. Coleman indicated during the interview process that she was “‘flexible’ with her schedule,” despite telling supervisors of her religious observance.

The lawsuit states that Ms. Coleman “meant that she was flexible within the parameters of her religious observance of the Sabbath as she had previously indicated.”

The suit also alleges that Lansing officials “failed to show that accommodating Coleman would cause undue hardship on the conduct of its detention center operations.”

The Justice Department is asking the court to award damages including back pay with interest to Ms. Coleman and to implement “appropriate policies/procedures and providing adequate training to all employees and officials regarding religious accommodations and discrimination.”

Lansing City Attorney Jim Smiertka did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Employee accommodation cases have regularly occurred since the Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that discrimination is not present if accommodating workers would place an “undue hardship” on an employer.

“It is amazing that in 2022, employees are still battling employers for religious accommodations,” said Orlan Johnson, public affairs and religious liberty director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s North America region. “It is my hope that this case will assist Ms. Coleman and others throughout the United States to peacefully act as conscientious employees but not have to choose between their profession and their religious persuasion.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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