A Muslim flight attendant was fired when she refused to serve passengers alcohol because it is against her religion. However, after suing the airline for discrimination, the court issued a ruling no one was expecting.
When Detroit resident Charee Stanley obtained employment as a flight attendant for ExpressJet, she was fully capable and willing to perform her professional duties. Once she converted to Islam, however, certain tasks she was required to carry out became explicitly off-limits, causing a rift between her and her colleagues.
As a Muslim, Stanley says she is not only prohibited from consuming alcohol, but she can’t even touch or sell it. Of course, this made the duties of her position, which included serving beer and liquor to passengers, impossible for her to perform. As such, she went to her superiors and explained her situation.
At first, Stanley says ExpressJet was fine with accomodating her faith, allowing her to negotiate with her coworkers that they would cover her duties in serving customers alcohol. However, another flight attendant complained about having to do part of Stanley’s job, which quickly caused an issue with her employer.
According to The Guardian, Stanley was told that she couldn’t force another flight attendant to perform her work duties and that she either must serve alcohol during these instances or resign. When she refused, Stanley was forced out of her position, prompting her to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although an investigation was inconclusive, she maintained the right to sue ExpressJet for discrimination.
Lawsuit Stanley v. ExpressJet alleged that ExpressJet violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not providing reasonable religious accommodation for her. As such, she insisted on the reinstatement of her job, back pay, punitive damages, and compensation for court costs. Thus began Stanley’s long court battle.
Stanley’s first disappointment came when the Sixth Court ruled that her lawsuit couldn’t be heard in a federal court due to the fact that the claim posed a conflict between the requested accommodation and collective bargaining, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The court decided that the complaint must either be one concerning religious rights in the workplace or workers’ right to unionize. The court concluded that she could only bring her case before a labor arbitrator.
Unwilling to give up, Stanley took her case to the U.S. Supreme Court in a bid to have the lower court’s decision overturned. Unfortunately for her, the SCOTUS declined to consider whether her claim should be sent to an arbitrator, upholding the Sixth Court’s decision.
The ruling concludes that disputes over religious accommodation in the workplace must be decided by an arbitrator and that her allegations that her firing was an act of retaliation over her Muslim faith lacked any proof.
Stanley placed herself in a sticky situation when she took the onus upon herself to find coworkers to routinely cover her work duties. When one employee refused, Stanley was unable to fulfill her side of the bargain and was subsequently required to perform the task that contradicted her religious belief.
While businesses have the responsibility to reasonably provide accommodations for religious beliefs, it is also the duty of the employees not to unnecessarily burden employers and coworkers with their personal beliefs. Crossing this line not only creates a toxic work environment but can easily end in a legal mess.