Supreme Court refuses to hear religious bias claim against Walgreens
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Supreme Court refuses to hear religious bias claim against Walgreens

The US Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a former Walgreens employee’s religious bias claim.

The Supreme Court declined to hear Darrell Patterson’s appeal from a lower court’s ruling that Walgreens did not wrongfully fire Patterson when it did so because Patterson failed to work on Saturdays on account of his religious beliefs.

Patterson, a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and a training instructor at Walgreens’ Orlando Customer Care Center, was fired after failing to report for work on August 20, 2011, a Saturday.

As a Seventh Day Adventist, Patterson’s religious beliefs require that he abstain from working during the Sabbath, which occurs from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. And although Walgreens had previously accommodated his request to not work on the Sabbath by allowing him to swap his shifts with another worker, Patterson’s failure to report for work to conduct an emergency training session on this particular occasion resulted in Walgreens firing him.

Patterson filed suit in the US District Court for Middle District of Florida, accusing Walgreens, inter alia, of religious discrimination, retaliation and failure to accommodate.

The district court ruled that Walgreens did not violate the law by firing Patterson. It explained that Title VII of the Civil rights Act of 1964 only requires that employers “reasonably accommodate” workers’ religious beliefs so long as such accommodation does not cause the company “undue hardship” and concluded that Patterson’s request to never work on Saturdays  caused undue hardship to Walgreens, thus making Walgreens’ decision to fire Patterson proper.

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision and, on Monday the Supreme Court refused to take up Patterson’s appeal, thus giving Walgreens the final victory.

The Supreme Court’s decision to turn away Patterson’s claims has raised concerns about religious liberty, with religious groups viewing the decision as tantamount to reducing an employee to having to choose between keeping his job and abiding by his religious beliefs.