Title VII requires covered employers to accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs. But what if an employee requests time off to honor his father’s religious beliefs? In Adeyeye v. Heartland Sweeteners, LLC, No. 12-3820 (7th Cir. July 31, 2013), the plaintiff-employee asked for time off to travel to Nigeria and participate in his father’s funeral rites. He described the rites as compulsory and as involving animal sacrifice. He also told his employer that failure to participate fully would result in the deaths of his father’s children. The employee himself professed Christianity as his religion and the religion for his children, but the funeral rites were part of the “whole culture” and, as the Court understood the testimony, inter-generational practice allowed each head of household to determine the family’s religious practices. When the employee took the time off without the employer’s approval, the employer discharged him.
The Court ruled the employee had presented enough evidence of a sincerely held religious belief to take his failure to accommodate claim to trial. The Court refused to inquire about the consistency of religious beliefs or why a person might adopt a particular belief. Even if, as Pascal suggested, you simply weigh the risk of (a) believing and getting it wrong against (b) rejecting religion and getting it wrong, the Court is not going to get involved. The Court’s moral for the rest of us is, if an employee wants time off for a compulsory activity that involves spirituality, death, and parents, we should at least ask a few more polite questions.