480 U.S. 136 (1987), 85-993, Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida

Docket Nº:No. 85-993
Citation:480 U.S. 136, 107 S.Ct. 1046, 94 L.Ed.2d 190, 55 U.S.L.W. 4208
Party Name:Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida
Case Date:February 25, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 136

480 U.S. 136 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 1046, 94 L.Ed.2d 190, 55 U.S.L.W. 4208

Hobbie

v.

Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida

No. 85-993

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 25, 1987

Argued December 10, 1986

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA,

FIFTH DISTRICT

After 2 1/2 years, appellant informed her employer that she was joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church and that, for religious reasons, she would no longer be able to work at the employer's jewelry store on her Sabbath. When she refused to work scheduled shifts on Friday evenings and Saturdays, she was discharged. She then filed a claim for unemployment compensation, which was denied by a claims examiner for "misconduct connected with [her] work" under the applicable Florida statute, and the Unemployment Appeals Commission (Appeals Commission) affirmed. The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the Appeals Commission's order.

[107 S.Ct. 1047] Held: Florida's refusal to award unemployment compensation benefits to appellant violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398; Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707.

(a) When a State denies receipt of a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs, that denial must be subjected to strict scrutiny, and can be justified only by proof of a compelling state interest. The Appeals Commission did not seriously contend that its infringement could withstand strict scrutiny, and there is no merit to its contention that justification for the infringement should be determined under the less rigorous standard of demonstrating that the challenged requirement for governmental benefits was a reasonable means of promoting a legitimate public interest. Pp. 139-146.

(b) The denial of benefits to appellant cannot be justified on the ground that, under Florida law, appellant was not completely ineligible for benefits, but was disqualified only for a limited time. Pp. 143-144.

(c) Nor can the denial of benefits be upheld on the ground that the conflict between work and religious belief was not caused by the employer's alteration of the conditions of employment after appellant was hired, but was caused, instead, by appellant's conversion during the course of her employment. Pp. 143-144.

(d) There is no merit to the Appeals Commission's argument that awarding benefits to appellant would violate the Establishment Clause

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of the First Amendment. The accommodation of religious practices here would not entangle the State in an unlawful fostering of religion. Pp. 144-145.

475 So.2d 711, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., post, p. 146, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 147, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 146.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant's employer discharged her when she refused to work certain scheduled hours because of sincerely held religious convictions adopted after beginning employment. The question to be decided is whether Florida's denial of unemployment compensation benefits to appellant violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.1

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I

Lawton and Company (Lawton), a Florida jeweler, hired appellant Paula Hobbie in October, 1981. She was employed by Lawton for 2 1/2 years, first as a trainee and then as assistant manager of a retail jewelry store. In April, 1984, Hobbie informed her immediate supervisor that she was to be baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church and that, for religious reasons, she would no longer be able to work on her Sabbath, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.2 The supervisor devised an arrangement with Hobbie: she agreed to work evenings and Sundays, [107 S.Ct. 1048] and he agreed to substitute for her whenever she was scheduled to work on a Friday evening or a Saturday.

This arrangement continued until the general manager of Lawton learned of it in June, 1984. At that time, after a meeting with Hobbie and her minister, the general manager informed appellant that she could either work her scheduled shifts or submit her resignation to the company. When Hobbie refused to do either, Lawton discharged her.

On June 4, 1984, appellant filed a claim for unemployment compensation with the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security. Under Florida law, unemployment compensation benefits are available to persons who become "unemployed through no fault of their own." Fla.Stat. § 443.021 (1985). Lawton contested the payment of benefits on the ground that Hobbie was "disqualified for benefits" because she had been discharged for "misconduct connected with [her] work." § 443.101(1)(a).3

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A claims examiner for the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation denied Hobbie's claim for benefits, and she appealed that determination. Following a hearing before a referee, the Unemployment Appeals Commission (Appeals Commission) affirmed the denial of benefits, agreeing that Hobbie's refusal to work scheduled shifts constituted "misconduct connected with [her] work." App. 3.

Hobbie challenged the Appeals Commission's order in the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal. On September 10, 1985, that court summarily affirmed the Appeals Commission.4 We postponed jurisdiction, 475 U.S. 1117 (1985), and we now reverse.5

II

Under our precedents, the Appeals Commission's disqualification of appellant from receipt of benefits violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, applicable to the

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States through the Fourteenth Amendment.6 Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963); Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707 (1981). In Sherbert, we considered South Carolina's denial of unemployment compensation benefits to a Sabbatarian who, like Hobbie, refused to work on Saturdays. The Court held that the State's [107 S.Ct. 1049] disqualification of Sherbert

force[d] her to choose between following the precepts of her religion and forfeiting benefits, on the one hand, and abandoning one of the precepts of her religion in order to accept work, on the other hand. Governmental imposition of such a choice puts the same kind of burden upon the free exercise of religion as would a fine imposed against [her] for her Saturday worship.

374 U.S. at 404. We concluded that the State had imposed a burden upon Sherbert's free exercise rights that had not been justified by a compelling state interest.

In Thomas, too, the Court held that a State's denial of unemployment benefits unlawfully burdened an employee's right to free exercise of religion. Thomas, a Jehovah's Witness, held religious beliefs that forbade his participation in the production of armaments. He was forced to...

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