Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc, No. 83-1158

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBURGER
Citation86 L.Ed.2d 557,105 S.Ct. 2914,472 U.S. 703
Decision Date26 June 1985
Docket NumberNo. 83-1158
PartiesESTATE OF Donald E. THORNTON and Connecticut, Petitioners, v. CALDOR, INC

472 U.S. 703
105 S.Ct. 2914
86 L.Ed.2d 557
ESTATE OF Donald E. THORNTON and Connecticut, Petitioners,

v.

CALDOR, INC.

No. 83-1158.
Argued Nov. 7, 1984.
Decided June 26, 1985.
Syllabus

Petitioner's decedent, Donald E. Thornton, worked in a managerial position at a Connecticut store owned by respondent, which operated a chain of New England retail stores. In 1979, Thornton informed respondent that he would no longer work on Sundays, as was required by respondent as to managerial employees. Thornton invoked the Connecticut statute which provides: "No person who states that a particular day of the week is observed as his Sabbath may be required by his employer to work on such day. An employee's refusal to work on his Sabbath shall not constitute grounds for his dismissal." Thornton rejected respondent's offer either to transfer him to a management job in a Massachusetts store that was closed on Sundays, or to transfer him to a nonsupervisory position in the Connecticut store at a lower salary. Subsequently, respondent transferred Thornton to a clerical position in the Connecticut store; Thornton resigned two days later and filed a grievance with the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration, alleging that he was discharged from his manager's position in violation of the Connecticut statute. The Board sustained the grievance, ordering respondent to reinstate Thornton, and the Connecticut Superior Court affirmed the Board's ruling, concluding that the statute did not offend the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed.

Held: The Connecticut statute, by providing Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on their chosen Sabbath, violates the Establishment Clause. To meet constitutional requirements under that Clause, a statute must not only have a secular purpose and not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion, its primary effect must not advance or inhibit religion. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 91 S.Ct. 2105, 29 L.Ed.2d 745. The Connecticut statute imposes on employers and employees an absolute duty to conform their business practices to the particular religious practices of an employee by enforcing observance of the Sabbath that the latter unilaterally designates. The State thus commands that Sabbath religious concerns automatically control over all secular interests at the workplace; the statute takes no account of the convenience or interests of the employer or those of other employees who do not observe a Sabbath. In granting unyielding weighting in favor of Sabbath observers over all other interests, the statute has a

Page 704

primary effect that impermissibly advances a particular religious practice. Pp. 708-711.

191 Conn. 336, 464 A.2d 785 (1983), affirmed.

Nathan Lewin, Washington, D.C., for petitioner, Estate of Donald E. Thornton.

Joseph I. Lieberman, New Haven, Conn., for petitioner, State of Conn.

Paul Gewirtz, New Haven, Conn., for respondent.

Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to decide whether a state statute that provides employees with the absolute right not to work

Page 705

on their chosen Sabbath violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

I

In early 1975, petitioner's decedent Donald E. Thornton 1 began working for respondent Caldor, Inc., a chain of New England retail stores; he managed the men's and boys' clothing department in respondent's Waterbury, Connecticut, store. At that time, respondent's Connecticut stores were closed on Sundays pursuant to state law. Conn.Gen.Stat. §§ 53-300 to 53-303 (1958).

In 1977, following the state legislature's revision of the Sunday-closing laws,2 respondent opened its Connecticut stores for Sunday business. In order to handle the expanded store hours, respondent required its managerial employees to work every third or fourth Sunday. Thornton, a Presbyterian who observed Sunday as his Sabbath, initially

Page 706

complied with respondent's demand and worked a total of 31 Sundays in 1977 and 1978. In October 1978, Thornton was transferred to a management position in respondent's Torrington store; he continued to work on Sundays during the first part of 1979. In November 1979, however, Thornton informed respondent that he would no longer work on Sundays because he observed that day as his Sabbath; he invoked the protection of Conn.Gen.Stat. § 53-303e(b) (1985), which provides:

"No person who states that a particular day of the week is observed as his Sabbath may be required by his employer to work on such day. An employee's refusal to work on his Sabbath shall not constitute grounds for his dismissal." 3

Thornton rejected respondent's offer either to transfer him to a management job in a Massachusetts store that was closed on Sundays, or to transfer him to a nonsupervisory position in the Torrington store at a lower salary.4 In March 1980, respondent transferred Thornton to a clerical position in the Torrington store; Thornton resigned two days later

Page 707

and filed a grievance with the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration alleging that he was discharged from his manager's position in violation of Conn.Gen.Stat. § 53-303e(b) (1985).

Respondent defended its action on the ground that Thornton had not been "discharged" within the meaning of the statute; respondent also urged the Board to find that the statute violated Article 7 of the Connecticut Constitution as well as the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

After holding an evidentiary hearing the Board evaluated the sincerity of Thornton's claim and concluded it was based on a sincere religious conviction; it issued a formal decision sustaining Thornton's grievance. The Board framed the statutory issue as follows: "If a discharge for refusal to work Sunday hours occurred and Sunday was the Grievant's Sabbath . . .," § 53-303e(b) would be violated; the Board held that respondent had violated the statute by "discharg[ing] Mr. Thornton as a management employee for refusing to work . . . [on] Thornton's . . . Sabbath." App. 11a, 12a. The Board ordered respondent to reinstate Thornton with backpay and compensation for lost fringe benefits.5 The Superior Court, in affirming that ruling, concluded that the statute did not offend the Establishment Clause.

The Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed, holding the statute did not have a "clear secular purpose." Caldor, Inc. v. Thornton, 191 Conn. 336, 349, 464 A.2d 785, 793 (1983).6 By authorizing each employee to designate his own Sabbath as a day off, the statute evinced the "unmistakable purpose . . . [of] allow[ing] those persons who wish to worship on a particular day the freedom to do so." Ibid. The court then held that the "primary effect" of the statute was to advance

Page 708

religion because the statute "confers its 'benefit' on an explicitly religious basis. Only those employees who designate a Sabbath are entitled not to work on that particular day, and may not be penalized for so doing." Id., at 350, 464 A.2d, at 794. The court noted that the statute required the State Mediation Board to decide which religious activities may be characterized as an "observance of Sabbath" in order to assess employees' sincerity, and concluded that this type of inquiry is "exactly the type of 'comprehensive, discriminating and continuing state surveillance' . . . which creates excessive governmental entanglements between church and state." Id., at 351, 464 A.2d, at 794 (quoting Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 619, 91 S.Ct. 2105, 2114, 29 L.Ed.2d 745 (1971)).

We granted certiorari, 465 U.S. 1078, 104 S.Ct. 1438, 79 L.Ed.2d 760 (1984).7 We affirm.

II

Under the Religion Clauses, government must guard against activity that impinges on religious freedom, and must take pains not to compel people to act in the name of any religion. In setting the appropriate boundaries in Establishment Clause cases, the Court has frequently relied on our holding in ...

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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • March 1, 2002
    ...S.Ct. 320, 130 L.Ed.2d 281 (1994). As Justice O'Connor stated in her oft-cited concurring opinion in Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U.S. 703, 711-712, 105 S.Ct. 2914, 2919, 86 L.Ed.2d 557 "In my view, a statute outlawing employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex......
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    ...to the public safety, peace, order, or welfare has been demonstrated or may be properly inferred."); Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U.S. 703, 105 S.Ct. 2914, 86 L.Ed.2d 557 (1985) (invalidating state statute requiring employers to accommodate an employee's Sabbath observance where ......
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    ...(Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock (1989) 489 U.S. 1, 15, 109 S.Ct. 890, 899, 103 L.Ed.2d 1; Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc. (1985) 472 U.S. 703, 710, 105 S.Ct. 2914, 2918, 86 L.Ed.2d 557.) The Establishment Clause, which is made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (Ev......
  • Liberty Univ. Inc. v. Merrill, No. 6:10–cv–00015–nkm.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • November 30, 2010
    ...so that it does not override other significant interests.” Id. The act was unlike that struck down in Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U.S. 703, 709, 105 S.Ct. 2914, 86 L.Ed.2d 557 (1985), which “arm[ed] Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on whatever......
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174 cases
  • E.E.O.C. v. Preferred Management Corp., No. IP98-1697-C-B/S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • March 1, 2002
    ...S.Ct. 320, 130 L.Ed.2d 281 (1994). As Justice O'Connor stated in her oft-cited concurring opinion in Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U.S. 703, 711-712, 105 S.Ct. 2914, 2919, 86 L.Ed.2d 557 "In my view, a statute outlawing employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex......
  • Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Nos. 13–354
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 30, 2014
    ...to the public safety, peace, order, or welfare has been demonstrated or may be properly inferred."); Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U.S. 703, 105 S.Ct. 2914, 86 L.Ed.2d 557 (1985) (invalidating state statute requiring employers to accommodate an employee's Sabbath observance where ......
  • Rowe v. Superior Court, No. B070406
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 25, 1993
    ...(Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock (1989) 489 U.S. 1, 15, 109 S.Ct. 890, 899, 103 L.Ed.2d 1; Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc. (1985) 472 U.S. 703, 710, 105 S.Ct. 2914, 2918, 86 L.Ed.2d 557.) The Establishment Clause, which is made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (Ev......
  • Liberty Univ. Inc. v. Merrill, No. 6:10–cv–00015–nkm.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • November 30, 2010
    ...so that it does not override other significant interests.” Id. The act was unlike that struck down in Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U.S. 703, 709, 105 S.Ct. 2914, 86 L.Ed.2d 557 (1985), which “arm[ed] Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on whatever......
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