Protestant Reformed Worker Successfully Challenges Sunday Work Assignment

Mr. Lanting, a member of South Holland Protestant Reformed Church, is a practicing attorney.

Perhaps few readers of the Standard Bearer are aware that an obscure provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers who refuse Sunday work assignments for religious reasons. But rather than writing a dry article on this very important religious freedom that Reformed Christian employees should be aware of, this writer decided to publish (with permission) actual correspondence in a real Sunday work case involving Phil Dykstra, a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church. What follows should inform the reader of typical religious discrimination suffered by Christians objecting to Sunday assignments, the federal law protecting this important but often ignored religious freedom, and the successful outcome in this recent case.

Letter Memorandum

December 27, 1995

Warner Lambert Co.

201 Tabor Road

Morris Plains, NJ 07950



Attention: Attorney Bill Greenbaum



Re:Employer: Parke-Davis, Holland, Michigan

Employee: Philip Dykstra

Subject: Religious Freedom — Sunday Work



Dear Mr. Greenbaum:

I understand you are Parke-Davis' employment attorney. As you know, our firm has been retained by Phil Dykstra, a 30-year employee of Parke-Davis, a subsidiary of Warner Lambert. Mr. Dykstra has recently been informed by his supervisor that he must either work Sundays or face a transfer accompanied by a $3/hr. reduction in pay. We have informed Mr. Dykstra that this employer practice violates the religious freedom provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Employment History. Phil Dykstra has been employed by Parke-Davis for thirty years as a chemical operator. In 1981, after working the preferred day shift for some 15 years, Parke-Davis announced to Phil that it was beginning a continuous 12-hour shift, and that he would be required to work Sundays. Phil refused, and Parke-Davis placed him on the despised "graveyard shift" (midnights) Monday through Friday. Phil reluctantly complied with this compulsory change and has faithfully worked the midnight shift for the last 14 years. Work evaluations by Phil's peers and supervisors have been outstanding.

Now, 14 years later, Phil has been told that his midnight shift (Monday through Friday) has been eliminated and he must either work Sundays on the new continuous shift or face an undesirable transfer to the "Drying Room" and suffer a $3/hr. decrease in pay.

Religious Beliefs and Practice. During his entire adult life, Phil has been a practicing member of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America, a nationwide (albeit small) denomination in the Dutch Calvinist tradition. Dutch Reformed Calvinists fled religious persecution in the Netherlands in the 1800s and settled many towns in the Midwest, particularly western Michigan (Holland, Zeeland, Grand Rapids, etc.). Some of these churches, including the Protestant Reformed, stalwartly insist that their parishioners refuse Sunday work (except for work of necessity or works of mercy).

I requested Phil and his pastor to prepare letter memoranda setting forth his personal and the church's position on Sunday work. (See Exhibit A and B). I have attached their letters for your perusal. There is no question but that Phil's refusal to work Sundays is a sincerely-held religious belief and practice that is protected under the First Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sections 701(j) and 703(a)(1) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, 42 U.S.C.§ 2000e-2(a)(1), make it unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of his or her religion. As the U.S. Court of Appeals stated in the case of E.E.O.C. v. Ithaca Industries, Inc., 849 F2d 116 (6th Cir. 1988):

In 1972, an amendment to Title VII, §701(j), was enacted with the stated purpose to protect Sabbath observers whose employers fail to adjust work schedules to fit their needs. The Act thus requires that an employer, short of undue hardship, make reasonable accommodations to the religious needs of its employees. It is also clear that the burden is on the employer to offer this accommodation. * * * Section 701(j) clearly anticipates that some employees will absolutely refuse to work on their Sabbath and this firmly held religious belief requires some offer of accommodation by employers.

Id. at 118

The employee bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case by showing that he holds a sincere religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement. Cooper v. Oak Rubber Co., 15 F3d 1375 (6th Cir. 1994). When the employee establishes a prima facie case of religious discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to show that it could not reasonably accommodate the employee without hardship, with reasonableness determined on a case-by-case basis. E.E.O.C. v. Arlington Transit Mix, Inc., 957 F2d 219 (6th Cir. 1991). It is the employer's duty or burden, not the employee's, to offer a reasonable accommodation honoring the employee's religious refusal to work Sundays. E.E.O.C. v. Ithaca Industries, Inc., supra.

Moreover, simply offering an employee the availability of "shift swapping," where, as in Dykstra's case, it is virtually impossible to arrange a swap, is not "reasonable accommodation." McGuire v. G.M.C., 956 F2d 607 (6th Cir. 1992). Furthermore, offering an employee an alternative that involves loss of wages or benefits is de facto not reasonable accommodation, but is discrimination. Cooper v. Oak Rubber, id. at 1379.

Reasonable Accommodation. Since it is clear that Phil Dykstra embraces a sincerely held religious belief and practice that prevents him from working on Sundays, federal law now shifts the burden on Parke-Davis to reasonably accommodate his religious beliefs.

It is my understanding that the only offer of accommodation has been to involuntarily transfer Mr. Dykstra, who is a chemical operator, to the "Drying Room," an unenviable and humiliating relocation where his skills and experience will be squandered. To add insult to injury, this forced reassignment entails a substantial reduction in Mr. Dykstra's wages.

With all due respect, this blatantly discriminatory conduct is not "reasonable accommodation" as required by the law. Accordingly, this alternative is unacceptable.

Dykstra's Suggestion. Since Parke-Davis has yet failed to offer "reasonable accommodation" short of "undue hardship," Mr. Dykstra suggests that Parke-Davis maintain the status quo — (midnight shift, Monday through Friday) — unless or until other accommodation can be arranged and agreed upon by the parties.

Mr. Dykstra is convinced that it would work Parke-Davis no hardship whatsoever to retain his current work schedule. The reasons for this are set forth in Exhibit C, which I requested him to prepare. His seniority, skills, and experience dictate that this is indeed a reasonable alternative.

Conclusion. Unless and until Parke-Davis can offer an acceptable "reasonable accommodation" of Dykstra's religious beliefs, we propose that Dykstra's shift status remain unchanged, and we respectfully request Parke-Davis to demonstrate how maintenance of the status quo would result in "undue hardship."

I await your reply.

Sincerely yours,

w/s James Lanting


EXHIBIT

SUBJECT: SUNDAY WORK FOR PHILIP DYKSTRA AT PARKE-DAVIS

Date: December 19, 1995



To whom it may concern:

I am the pastor of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church, Hudsonville, MI, and write on behalf of Philip Dykstra, member of our church, and employee at Parke-Davis in Holland, MI.

According to our religious convictions, Philip Dykstra may not and will not work on Sunday. The longstanding and still held position of our churches is that work on the Lord's Day is not permissible, unless it is a work of necessity (for example, fire-fighter, policeman) or work of mercy (for example, nurses, doctors, nursing home employees). According to anyone in our churches, the occupation of Philip Dykstra does not fall into either of these categories.

This is the official position of our churches, based on Holy Scripture, the Word of God. Every local church of our denomination across the country will discipline and eventually exclude from membership any member who works on Sunday in labors that are not of necessity or mercy. I know this because our churches, although spread across the country, number only about 30, and our practices are consistent and unanimous throughout. This was already our belief in 1941 when a letter was sent to the President of the United States by our denomination's Synod, objecting to unnecessary Sunday labor. In response to the President's promotion of Sunday labor, our Synod wrote, among other things:

... Concerning Sabbath labor we would say that it is our conviction and avowed purpose not to engage in same. The Lord God has from earliest times promulgated His Divine Law and this Law tells us in the 4th commandment that we shall keep His Sabbaths holy. Mr. President, we, as members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, have the earnest desire to so conduct ourselves on the Sabbath, in meditation, prayer, and Divine worship, that we may have a foretaste of the heavenly Sabbath. We feel and are convinced that such is the injunction of the Almighty Who is our Sovereign and therefore we refuse unnecessary Sabbath labor (italics mine, BLG. See Acts of Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1941, pages 76, 77; also pages 26, article 38).

The same position was taken and expressed by our Synod again in 1961, again in connection with unnecessary labor by military in peacetime (see Acts of Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1961, page 26, Art. 39; pages 54ff.; and letters sent to the military and then Rep. Gerald R. Ford).

This remains the conviction of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America.

Mr. Philip Dykstra has been a member of the Hudsonville PRC for 23 years. During my pastorate here for 15 months, he has been in attendance at worship services twice every Sunday with regularity. According to my knowledge from talking with long-time members, this has been his and his family's practice for their entire membership. Indeed, it is the regular practice of all of the members of our 600-member church. It is my desire that his religious convictions will certainly not be harmful with regard to his employment at Warner Lambert/Parke-Davis.

w/s Rev. Barry Gritters

Pastor, Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church


January 9, 1996



SENT BY FACSIMILE

AND REGULAR MAIL

(201) 540-2424

Warner Lambert Co.

201 Tabor Road

Morris Plains, NJ 07950



Attention: William Greenbaum, Attorney



Re: Employer: Parke-Davis, Holland, Michigan

Employee: Philip Dykstra

Subject: Religious Freedom — Sunday Work



Dear Mr. Greenbaum:

After two weeks of difficult negotiations, this letter will confirm our phone conference yesterday during which we discussed Parke-Davis' latest offer of accommodation of Mr. Dykstra's religious objection to Sunday employment. I have discussed your proposal with Mr. Dykstra and he has agreed to accept your Company's offer, which I understand to be as follows:

1.Mr. Dykstra's recent reassignment to the "drying room" and $3/hr. decrease in salary will be rescinded and Mr. Dykstra will retain his previous status and salary rate as a chemical operator.

2.Mr. Dykstra will be assigned as a chemical operator "rover" on the day shift (8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday). He will report for this new assignment at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 10th, at which time he will be assigned to the "operating quad" which includes Buildings 40, 42, 46 and 48, performing duties essentially similar to his duties as chemical operator in Building 7.

3.Mr. Dykstra will be paid for the 8-hour shift he did not work on Tuesday, January 9th, which will be credited to his next regular paycheck.

4.It is understood by both parties that neither Parke-Davis nor any of its agents or employees will engage in any retaliatory acts in response to Mr. Dykstra's asserting his religious freedom rights under Section 701(j) and Section 703(a)(1) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

5.Mr. Dykstra will have an opportunity to "bid" and be considered for a "Supervisor 2" position of his choice, which will be offered in the near future.

6.Mr. Dykstra agrees to continue as a faithful and conscientious employee as has been his work history in the past.

I genuinely appreciate, Bill, your courtesy and professionalism in resolving this matter which is of the utmost importance to my client. Would you also pass along our sentiments to the Personnel Department for its good faith efforts in finally offering what appears to be a "reasonable accommodation" of Mr. Dykstra's religious beliefs.

Should there be any further developments in this matter, I would appreciate you contacting me immediately. Thanks again for your cordial cooperation.

Sincerely yours,

w/s James Lanting