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U.S. court gives green light for Adventist’s workplace discrimination trial

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U.S. court gives green light for Adventist’s workplace discrimination trial

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last week ruled in favor of an Adventist bus driver who was fired from his job for his observance of Sabbath, despite his requests of supervisors for schedule changes. The court is located in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. [photo: Sean Gardner]

Bus driver was terminated for Sabbath absences despite notification

April 17, 2013 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Ansel Oliver/ANN

A Seventh-day Adventist school bus driver in the U.S. state of Louisiana has won the right from a federal appeals court to proceed with a workplace discrimination case over his observance of Sabbath.

Robert Antoine last week was granted a unanimous decision from a three-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans against his former employer First Student Inc., the largest school bus company in North America.

Though he had informed his supervisors of his request to not work on Friday nights, the court found that First Student had not followed up on its offer of swapping his shift. He gave proper notice for his Friday night absences, but was later terminated for absenteeism. 

A district court dismissed the case, in which Antoine filed suit in January of 2010, in November of 2011. Last week’s ruling by the higher appeals court means the case can now move forward.

“This demonstrates how hard it can be for a person to just get a trial,” said Todd McFarland, who serves as an associate general counsel for the Adventist Church’s world headquarters and argued the case for Antoine in September. “A lot of times just getting a trial is half the battle.”

Seventh-day Adventists observe the biblical Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.

Federal employment law in the United States says an employer must make “reasonable accommodations” for the religious observances of employees, as long as it doesn’t have to “incur undue hardship.”

First Student did not respond to a request for comment.

The Fifth Circuit, one of 13 U.S. federal appeals courts, is located in New Orleans and has jurisdiction for the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

McFarland says the church’s Office of General Counsel routinely assists with workplace discrimination cases regarding Sabbath observance and files friend of the court briefs in support of people of other faiths.

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