Denying Sabbath Off May Hammer Dollar General
(CN) - Dollar General may be liable for firing a manager who refused to work on the Sabbath because he is a Seventh-Day Adventist, a federal judge ruled.
Webster claimed that he had stated on his July 2010 application for a manager position at the Dollar General in Sicklerville, N.J., that he "would never be available to work from sunset on Fridays to sunset on Saturdays" because his religion required him to observe the Sabbath.
When Webster accepted the job the next month, district manager Bob Miller allegedly said Webster would not have to work on Saturday "without exception," and that he would not be fired without cause.
Although Dollar General accommodated Webster for a brief while, he was eventually required to work on a Saturday, the complaint states.
After Webster objected to working on another Saturday, Miller allegedly had him contact Vince Triboletti, the manager of the Berlin, N.J., Dollar General, who, on Oct. 26, "became angry" when Webster said that he could not work on Saturday, according to the complaint.
The next day, Miller allegedly told Webster that he could not work at the Berlin store, and ordered him to provide a written statement explaining why he could not work on Saturdays.
When Webster refused to either work on Saturdays or accept a demotion with reduced hours, Miller asked him for his keys "and escorted him out of the store," the complaint states.
Webster claims that other employees were freely granted Sundays off, but that he received "repeated comments, statements and harassment" because of his religion.
After the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission authorized Webster to sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in September 2012, he sued store operator Dolgencorp LLC and several employees for employment discrimination.
The 10-count complaint also asserted violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, breach of contract, bad faith and emotional distress.
Dolgencorp removed the case to Federal Court on Feb. 4, and later moved to dismiss all but Webster's claims for Title VII religious discrimination and failure to accommodate.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas partially granted the motion last week, holding that the October incident "hardly amounts to the severe or pervasive discriminatory conduct required for a plausible hostile work environment claim."
Though the court dismissed Webster's claims for state law discrimination and emotional distress as time-barred, his breach of express contract claim survived.
"Plaintiff clearly alleges that he entered into an employment contract with Dollar General on or about Aug. 12, 2010, and that as part of that contract, the parties expressly agreed that plaintiff would not be required to work on Saturday and would not be terminated without cause," Irenas wrote. "Plaintiff further asserts that Dolgencorp breached these express terms by first requiring him to work on Saturday, and then terminating him, despite him having performed his duties 'in an exemplary and unimpeachable manner.' Finally, plaintiff alleges that he suffered damages as a result of this conduct. These allegations state a plausible claim for breach of contract."
Webster can amend his complaint as to the Title VII hostile work environment claim, the ruling states.