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PRESS RELEASE
12-23-09

Federal Court Enters $130,000 Consent Decree Ending EEOC Lawsuit Against Mesaba Airlines

Delta Subsidiary Refused to Allow Shift Swaps for Sabbath Observances, Agency Charged

MINNEAPOLIS  – Judge  Donovan W. Frank of the federal district court in Minneapolis late yesterday entered a consent  decree resolving a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Mesaba Airlines. The decree provides for the distribution of $130,000  to five discrimination victims as well as injunctive relief.

In its lawsuit, filed on September  30, 2008, the EEOC alleged that Mesaba Airlines, a regional airline and wholly  owned subsidiary of Atlanta-based Delta  Air Lines, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it  terminated a Jewish customer service agent (CSA) because she refused to work on  the Jewish Sabbath (EEOC v. Mesaba  Airlines, D. Minn.  No.08-cv-5308 [DWF/AJB].) The EEOC’s  case focused upon an alleged Mesaba policy prohibiting employees from making  voluntary shift swaps if they were within their initial 90 days of employment,  also known as their probationary period.

Many practitioners of the Jewish faith, like the charging party in this case, observe the Sabbath from sundown on Friday until sundown on  Saturday. Consistent with her religious  beliefs, she refused to work past sundown on September 29, 2006, and was  officially terminated by Mesaba on October 5, 2006. Shortly thereafter, she filed a charge of  discrimination with the EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office.

The EEOC also alleged that Mesaba’s  policy against shift swapping for probationary emp­loyees led hiring managers  to reject job applicants when they expressed a need to attend religious  services, such as Christian church services on Sunday mornings.

This “no shift swap” policy, the  EEOC alleged, conflicted with Title VII, which requires an employer to  reasonably accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief or  observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless providing the  accommodation would create an undue hardship. During the litigation, the EEOC also identified  four Christian applicants who applied for CSA positions but were allegedly rejected during interviews because they stated a desire for weekend shifts that would not conflict with Sunday church services.

“Employees should not be forced to choose between practicing their faith and keeping or getting a job,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “As this suit shows, the EEOC  vigorously enforces Title VII’s protection against religious discrimination.”

Mesaba has since dropped the challenged policy and no longer employs CSAs. The EEOC consent decree will require monitoring, training and other  non-monetary remedies that will benefit current Mesaba Airlines employees.

“This case might have never arisen if Mesaba’s front-line managers had a  better understanding of their obligation to make reasonable religious accommodations for employees who identify a conflict between their job and their religious beliefs,” said John  Rowe, director of EEOC’s Chicago District who managed the administrative investigation preceding the lawsuit. “One of the most  important provisions in this consent decree, therefore, is the requirement that  Mesaba Airlines revise its policies and take steps to ensure future compliance  with Title VII.”

EEOC Chicago District  Regional Attorney John Hendrickson added, “When  employees identify aspects of their religious beliefs that conflict with their  employment, employers must engage these workers to explore solutions. When  it is possible for employers to make reasonable accommodations without  incurring undue hardships, they must do so. In such situations, employers  who take a ‘my way or the highway’ approach do so at their peril.”

In addition to Hendrickson, the government’s litigation team included Associate Regional Attorney Jean Kamp and Supervisory  Trial Attorney Diane Smason of the Chicago District Office, and Trial Attorney  Nick Pladson of the agency’s Minneapolis Area Office. The EEOC’s Chicago District Office  is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin,  Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment  discrimination. Further information  about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.