In applying for an internship position with your company, an applicant refused to supply his Social Security number (SSN) because he had earlier disavowed his SSN, believing that his identification by any number — including by SSN — caused him to have the “Mark of the Beast” prohibited by his religion. Because the Internal Revenue Code requires employers to collect employees’ SSNs, your company did not hire him. The applicant later sued, claiming that your company violated Title VII by refusing to reasonably accommodate his stated religious beliefs. Does he have a viable claim?
No, in a case with similar facts, a federal appeals court noted that there is a two-step analysis involved in establishing a viable legal claim for religious discrimination under Title VII. First, the applicant needs to establish a prima facie case, which requires proof that he holds a sincere religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement; that he informed the employer about the conflicts; and that he was discharged or disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting employment requirement. Second, if the applicant establishes a prima facie case, the employer must show that it could not reasonably accommodate his religious beliefs without undue hardship.
Some courts have relied on the first step, finding that a statutory obligation, like providing a SSN, is a legal requirement, not an employment requirement, so no prima facie case can be made. Other courts have proceeded under the second step, finding that violation of a federal statute would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Regardless of which approach is used, Title VII does not require an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if the accommodation would violate a federal statute.
Source: Yeager v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp. (6thCir 2015) 98 EPD ¶45,240.