180 F.3d 1047 (9th Cir. 1999), 96-17342, Balint v. Carson City

Docket Nº:96-17342
Citation:180 F.3d 1047
Opinion Judge:T.G. NELSON, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:LISETTE BALINT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CARSON CITY, NEVADA, a consolidated municipality; ROD BANISTER, in his official capacity only as Carson City Sheriff; KAY BENNETT; TOM TATRO; JANICE AYRES; GREG SMITH, in their official capacities only as Board of Supervisors, Carson City, NV, Defendants-Appellees
Attorney:John N. Schroeder, Reno, Nevada, for the plaintiff-appellant. Mark Forsberg, Deputy District Attorney, Carson City, Nevada, for the defendants-appellees. Fred M. Blum, Jaffe, Martini & Blum, San Francisco, California, and Marc D. Stern, American Jewish Congress, New York, New York, for amici curi...
Judge Panel:Before: Procter Hug, Jr., Chief Judge, James R. Browning, Stephen Reinhardt, Melvin Brunetti, Alex Kozinski, David R. Thompson, Ferdinand F. Fernandez, Thomas G. Nelson, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, A. Wallace Tashima, and Sidney R. Thomas, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge T.G. Nelson; Dissent by Judge K...
Case Date:June 14, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1047

180 F.3d 1047 (9th Cir. 1999)

LISETTE BALINT, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

CARSON CITY, NEVADA, a consolidated municipality; ROD BANISTER, in his official capacity only as Carson City Sheriff; KAY BENNETT; TOM TATRO; JANICE AYRES; GREG SMITH, in their official capacities only as Board of Supervisors, Carson City, NV, Defendants-Appellees

No. 96-17342

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

June 14, 1999

Argued and Submitted, San Francisco, California: November 19, 1998.

Page 1048

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. D.C. No. CV-96-00141-HDM. Howard D. McKibben, District Judge, Presiding.

John N. Schroeder, Reno, Nevada, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Mark Forsberg, Deputy District Attorney, Carson City, Nevada, for the defendants-appellees.

Fred M. Blum, Jaffe, Martini & Blum, San Francisco, California, and Marc D. Stern, American Jewish Congress, New York, New York, for amici curiae American Jewish Congress and Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Stephen C. Balkenbush, Thorndal, Armstrong, Delk, Balkenbush & Eisinger, Reno, Nevada, for amici curiae Nevada Association of Counties and Nevada League of Cities.

Before: Procter Hug, Jr., Chief Judge, James R. Browning, Stephen Reinhardt, Melvin Brunetti, Alex Kozinski, David R. Thompson, Ferdinand F. Fernandez, Thomas G. Nelson, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, A. Wallace Tashima, and Sidney R. Thomas, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge T.G. Nelson; Dissent by Judge Kleinfeld.

OPINION

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T.G. NELSON, Circuit Judge:

This appeal presents the question of whether the existence of a bona fide seniority system obviates the duty to reasonably accommodate the religious needs of an employee pursuant to Title VII. We hold that the mere existence of a seniority system does not relieve an employer of the duty to attempt reasonable accommodation of its employees' religious practices, if such an accommodation can be accomplished without modification of the seniority system and with no more than a de minimis cost. Because the district court granted summary judgment based on the mere existence of a seniority system and because there are genuine issues of material fact to be decided, we reverse and remand.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY 1

Lisette Balint is a member of the Worldwide Church of God (" the Church" ). A central tenet of the Church is the strict observance of the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The Church proscribes all forms of secular work during the Sabbath observance.

In February 1995, Balint was offered a position in the detention department of the Carson City Sheriff's Department (" the Department" ). In mid-March, Balint completed the requisite physical, psychological and drug testing and was told to report to work for a swing shift on Friday, March 31, 1995. At that time, she informed the Department that she could not work during her Sabbath and requested that her schedule be adjusted to accommodate her religious practice. Balint specifically offered to split her days off work, to work on Sundays and to take only the actual Saturday Sabbath off. On March 22, 1995, Lieutenant Dimit, the head of the detention department, informed her that there could be no accommodation. Balint then withdrew her application with the Department.

Balint filed an action against Carson City; Rod Banister, the Carson City Sheriff; and four members of the Carson City

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Board of Supervisors alleging that Carson City (" the City" ) had engaged in religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1), and the Nevada state antidiscrimination statute. She also alleged that the defendants were negligent in supervising Lieutenant Dimit by allowing him to violate the antidiscrimination statutes.

The City countered by arguing that it was not required to accommodate Balint because of its seniority-based, shift-bidding system. Every six months, the twelve or thirteen deputies assigned to the jail bid for shifts in order of seniority. A deputy cannot bid for the same shift he or she is currently working. There is only one deputy with both Saturday and Sunday off. This system is a long-standing practice of the Department, although not the subject of any written document. Similarly, although deputies are permitted to trade shifts for personal emergencies on a one-time basis, there is an unwritten rule prohibiting deputies from trading shifts on a regular basis.

After permitting limited discovery solely on the question of " whether the Carson City Sheriff's Department has a neutral shift-bidding system in effect," the district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court first held that Balint had established a prima facie case of discrimination. It went on to hold that in light of the Department's bona fide shift-bidding system, any accommodation of Balint's religious practices would constitute an undue hardship as a matter of law.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review grants of summary judgment de novo. Covey v. Hollydale Mobilehome Estates, 116 F.3d 830, 834 (9th Cir. 1997). The appellate court must determine, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, whether the district court correctly applied the relevant substantive law and whether there are any genuine issues of material fact. Id.

III. ANALYSIS

This case requires us to make two decisions. First, we must decide whether the mere existence of a seniority system shields an employer from the duty to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs. This question requires an examination of the interrelationship of the statutory provisions for reasonable accommodation and seniority system protections. Second, we must determine whether the district court properly granted summary judgment on the basis that the City could not accommodate Balint without incurring an undue hardship.

A. Interrelationship of Religious Accommodation and Seniority Systems Under Title VII

Title VII prohibits discrimination " against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . religion." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Religion is defined to include all aspects of religious observance except those that the employer cannot reasonably accommodate. 2

As a general matter, this court applies a two-part framework to review claims of religious discrimination under Title VII. Tiano v. Dillard Dep't Stores, Inc., 139 F.3d 679, 681 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Heller v. EBB Auto Co., 8 F.3d 1433, 1438 (9th Cir. 1993)). First, the employee has the burden to establish a prima facie case of religious discrimination. Id. 3 Second, if

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the employee has proven its prima facie case, then the employer has the burden to show either that it attempted to reasonably accommodate the employee's religious beliefs or that any accommodation of the employee's needs would result in undue hardship. Id.

We assume that Balint has established a prima facie case of discrimination because the City has conceded, for the purposes of this appeal, that Balint was denied employment due to her refusal to work on her Sabbath. The City has also conceded that it took no steps to accommodate Balint's request for observance of her Sabbath. 4 Thus, the issue before us is whether any accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the City.

The City contends that any accommodation, in light of its neutral, shift-bidding seniority system, would be an undue hardship as a matter of law. The City argues that § 2000e-2(h) of Title VII, which permits the operation of bona fide seniority systems " notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter," is a complete defense to Balint's religious accommodation claim. The City further relies on Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 53 L.Ed.2d 113, 97 S.Ct. 2264 (1977), to support its view of the peremptory effect of the seniority system provision.

1. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (h) .

We begin our analysis with the seniority system provision itself. Section 2000e-2(h) provides:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to apply different standards of compensation, or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority or merit system, . . . provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin . . . .

By its plain language, § 2000e-2(h) merely articulates that seniority systems are not, in and of themselves, illegal employment practices. 5 Under the statute, seniority systems are a valid method of providing different levels of compensation and privileges, even if they have a discriminatory impact on employees. 6 The statute does not, however, state that employers with seniority systems are exempt from the other requirements of Title VII. Nor does the language " notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter" provide such an exemption. Quite plainly this language means that no other provision in Title VII can transform an otherwise valid seniority

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system into an illegal employment practice. Contrary to the City's argument, § 2000e-2(h) is not a complete defense to Balint's religious accommodation claim.

2. Trans World Airlines v. Hardison.

The Supreme Court's decision in Hardison supports our interpretation of the bare language of § 2000e-2(h). Because both parties heavily relied upon Hardison to support their arguments, we review the case here in detail.

Larry G. Hardison was employed by TWA, in a department operated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In his position, Hardison worked five days on, two days off. TWA employees bid for work shifts in accordance with a seniority system implemented pursuant to a collective...

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