Muslim Truck Driver Sues After Being Fired for Refusing to Transport Alcohol
Good morning and happy Monday, LBW readers. I thought we'd jump right into the week with an interesting Constitutional discussion.
The discussion centers around a complaint filed 10 days ago in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by a man who says he was fired -- or, more accurately, forced to resign -- from his job as a truck driver for refusing to transport alcohol, in this case, Miller Lite. The plaintiff, Vasant Reddy, is a Muslim, and says that delivering cigarettes and booze violates his religious convictions.
The complaint is pretty bare bones, and the Philadelphia Inquirer captures the essence of it here. As does Eugene Volokh, at the Volokh Conspiracy, where, as usual, the debate is ramping up in the comments. Volokh runs through the 2 prongs of the "religious accommodation" test under Title VII and grants Reddy the benefit of the doubt as to the fact that his refusal was based on a "sincerely held religious belief." The remaining question: whether accommodating that belief imposes an undue hardship on the employer.
Reddy's complaint alleges that less than 5 percent of his employer's loads contain alcohol or tobacco, so it should be no big whoop to assign those loads to other drivers. In fact, that's what he alleges happened when first refused to move the beer. It was only after the load had been transported "without incident" that he was given the choice: resign or be fired.
Volokh concludes his post as follows:
Maybe it’s bad for federal law to impose such an obligation on employers, whether because the law is too vague, imposes unduly on private employers, imposes unduly on coworkers, gives an undue preference to conscientious objectors (it has been interpreted to apply to nonreligious conscientious objectors as well as religious ones), or something else. But it does impose such an obligation, and provides a valuable benefit to religious objectors. Muslims are no more and no less entitled to this benefit than are Christians, Jews, or others.
And from there, the commenters take off, waxing poetic on how the percentage of naughty stuff-containing loads can be misleading in the context of cross-country trucking, noting that Muslims are necessarily aiding in the transport of such goods every day since the diesel fuel powering the trucks comes from the Middle East, and describing in great detail the roundabout way in which Royal Brunei Airlines gets around the Sultan's objections to alcohol to allow its passengers to get sloshed.
A similar case in the U.K. back in 2008 resulted in a loss for the employee who objected to handling alcohol. Of course they don't have Title VII over there.
Let's join the discussion, readers. What do you think -- does Reddy have a valid claim of religious discrimination?
Posted by Eric Lipman on October 25, 2010 at 11:13 AM | Permalink
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