757 F.2d 476 (2nd Cir. 1985), 397, Philbrook v. Ansonia Bd. of Educ.

Docket Nº:397, Docket 84-7548.
Citation:757 F.2d 476
Party Name:Ronald PHILBROOK, Appellant, v. ANSONIA BOARD OF EDUCATION and Nicholas Collicelli, Dr. Charles J. Connors, Kenneth Eaton, William Evans, Del Matricaria, Susan Schumacher, Faith Tingley, Robert E. Zuraw, Ansonia Federation of Teachers, Local 1012, AFL-CIO, Jose Neves, Kathleen Roberts, Mary Ghirardini, Dennis Gleason, Dominick Golia, Maureen Wilkin
Case Date:March 07, 1985
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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757 F.2d 476 (2nd Cir. 1985)

Ronald PHILBROOK, Appellant,


ANSONIA BOARD OF EDUCATION and Nicholas Collicelli, Dr.

Charles J. Connors, Kenneth Eaton, William Evans, Del

Matricaria, Susan Schumacher, Faith Tingley, Robert E.

Zuraw, Ansonia Federation of Teachers, Local 1012, AFL-CIO,

Jose Neves, Kathleen Roberts, Mary Ghirardini, Dennis

Gleason, Dominick Golia, Maureen Wilkinson, and Georgette

Williams, Appellees.

No. 397, Docket 84-7548.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 7, 1985

Argued Nov. 14, 1984.

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David N. Rosen, New Haven, Conn., for appellant.

Thomas N. Sullivan, Hartford, Conn. (Robert J. Murphy, Hartford, Conn., of counsel), for appellees Ansonia Bd. of Educ. and the Individual School Bd. Members.

Robert F. McWeeney, Hartford, Conn., for Appellees Ansonia Federation of Teachers, Local 1012, and Union Officers.

Before OAKES and KEARSE, Circuit Judges, and POLLACK, District Judge. [*]

OAKES, Circuit Judge:

Ronald Philbrook, a high school teacher in Ansonia, Connecticut, appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Thomas F. Murphy, Judge, after a bench trial, finding that he failed to prove his claim of religious discrimination in employment against the Ansonia Board of Education (the "school board") and the Ansonia Federation of Teachers, Local 1012 (the

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"union"). Philbrook, a member of the Worldwide Church of God, claims that the school board's leave policies violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-2 (1982), and the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Reaching only the statutory issue, we reverse and remand.


Appellant has taught typing and business at Ansonia High School since 1962. Some time later he began studying and observing the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God. In February, 1968, he was baptized into the church, of which he remains a member. The tenets of the church require members to refrain from secular employment on certain designated holy days each year. These holy days are determined with reference to the Hebrew calendar. Thus they often fall on different days in different years. Several of these holy days usually fall during a school week. Appellant estimated that if he is to observe the required holy days he will have to miss approximately six school days each year.

The school board's leave policies, as outlined in collective bargaining agreements with the union, have changed over time:

A. In 1966, the school board and the union, then recognized as the exclusive bargaining representative for Ansonia's teachers, entered into an agreement that provided for five days' leave "for personal and or legal reasons." The agreement also provided for accident and sick leave but said nothing about leave for religious reasons.

B. The 1967-1968 contract provided for annual leave of 18 days, cumulative to a total of 150 days, for "personal illness, illness in the immediate family which requires the presence of the teacher, ... compulsory court appearance as party or witness." It also provided that teachers could use annual leave for other reasons, such as "weddings," a "death in the immediate family," and "personal reasons," limiting weddings and death in the family to a specified number of days and allowing "personal reasons" leave only "at [the] Sup[erintenden]t's discretion." The agreement also stated that teachers could take up to three days' leave "for observance of Religious Holy Days which church laws make obligatory." Religious leave, however, could not be charged or accumulated as annual leave.

C. The 1968-1969 contract contained many of the same provisions, yet provided for three days per year for "legitimate and necessary personal business at the teacher's discretion," and included the three days for religious observance as annual leave days, which presumably were cumulative.

While none of these early agreements expressly stated that personal business leave could not be used for religious observance, it appears that the school board interpreted these categories as exclusive. Later contracts makes the exclusivity explicit. The 1969-1970 contract again allowed three days for personal business and three days for religious holidays, but the latter were no longer part of annual leave. Moreover, it stated that "[n]o annual leave, including accumulated days, shall be used for absence due to Religious Holidays in excess of 3 days per year." The 1970-1971 contract added a provision stating that personal business leave days could not be used for any of a number of enumerated activities, including "[a]ny religious activity." 1

The next modification of the restrictions on personal business leave is evinced by the agreement for 1978 through 1982. The contract still provided for three days, but only one was at the teacher's discretion. The other two would be authorized only after the teacher gave the reason for his or her absence. The current agreement, in

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effect until 1985, contains the same leave provisions. 2

From 1967 through 1976, appellant took unauthorized absences for religious holidays in excess of three days per year, for which the school board docked appellant's salary. Although some of the contracts during this period appear to leave the reason for personal business absences to the teacher's discretion, appellant claims to have taken no personal business leave on church holy days. In 1976, however, appellant stopped taking unauthorized leaves for religious reasons, claiming that his family could not sustain the financial strain of the docked salary. He began to schedule required

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hospital visits on church holy days, and on several occasions he worked on a holy day.

Appellant claims to have sought relief from both school authorities and the union. The school board has always allowed appellant to take unpaid leave for religious holy days, but appellant has repeatedly suggested two other arrangements. On the one hand, appellant has asked that the school board allow personal business leave to be used for religious observance. On the other hand, appellant has offered to pay the full cost of a substitute instead of being docked the larger pro rata salary deduction for observing religious holy days in excess of the three allotted by contract. 3 Moreover, he has agreed to supervise the substitute and to make up for days missed by doing meaningful school work at other times. The school board has consistently rejected both proposals.

Appellant's legal battle seeking accommodation of his religious practices began in 1973 when he filed a complaint against the school board and the union with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ("CHRO") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The CHRO found probable cause to believe that the school board's refusal to allow personal business leave to be used for religious observance constituted religious discrimination, and attempted conciliation. The CHRO's conciliation agreement proposed that the school board and the union agree to "amend [the leave provisions] ... so not to deny employees the use of their accumulated personal business days for observance of Religious Holidays." The agreement also provided appellant with back pay compensation. The school board rejected the proposed conciliation. 4

Soon thereafter the EEOC assumed jurisdiction and also found probable cause. The EEOC attempted conciliation between appellant and the union, but these efforts failed. 5 On September 19, 1977, the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter.

Appellant filed his complaint in federal court on December 16, 1977, alleging that the school board's prohibition from using personal business leave for religious observance violated Title VII and the First Amendment. In addition to charging the school board and the union, appellant added the individual members of the school board and various present and former union officers as defendants. All parties moved for summary judgment, but on April 8, 1983, the district court denied the motions, finding that material facts were in dispute.

After a two-day trial, the district court held that appellant had failed to prove religious discrimination. The court's opinion first outlines the facts that were not in dispute. After reviewing appellant's testimony concerning his religious practices, the court declined to find appellant insincere in his religious beliefs, though it had "some doubts of his sincerity." The court made no finding, stating that "we draw no inference of insincerity without more facts. Neither do we find he was sincere." After reviewing what it deemed relevant Supreme Court case law, the court concluded that appellant failed to prove religious discrimination, because he had "not been placed by the School Board or any of its members or by the Union or any defendant officers thereof, in a position of violating his religion or losing his job." In addition, the court stated that it had no jurisdiction over the individual school board members

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or union officers under Title VII or 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983.


Appellant's Prima Facie Case

In this case of first impression, we begin by examining Title VII's prohibition against religious discrimination. Under Title VII, an employer cannot discriminate against any employee on the basis of the employee's religious beliefs unless the employer shows that he cannot "reasonably accommodate" the employee's religious needs without "undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business." 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e(j). 6 The parties assume and we agree that Title VII requires the plaintiff to make out a prima facie case of...

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