Nigerian May Have a Case for Religious Bias

     CHICAGO (CN) – Not letting an employee go to Nigeria to perform burial rites at his father’s funeral may amount to religious discrimination, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     Some time after he moved to the United States from Nigeria in 2008, Sikiru Adeyeye asked his then-employer Heartland Sweeteners for five weeks unpaid leave so he could travel home to lead his father’s burial rites. Adeyeye allegedly explained his participation was compulsory or he and his family would suffer spiritual death.
     “This is very important for me to be there in order to participate in the funeral rite according to our custom and tradition,” Adeyeye explained in his letter requesting time off,, “The ceremony usually cover from three to four weeks and is two weeks after the burial, there is certain rite[s] that all of the children must participate. And after the third week, my mother will not come out until after one month when I have to be there to encourage her, and I have to [k]ill five goats, then she can now come out. This is done compulsory for the children so that the death will not come or take away any of the children’s life.”
     Heartland refused his request, but Adeyeye left anyway to perform the ceremonies. He was fired upon his return and sued for religious discrimination.
     A federal judge in Indianapolis found that Adeyeye did not present his employer with notice of the religious nature of his request for time off, but the 7th Circuit reversed Wednesday.
     “Whether or not Adeyeye’s letters might have justified holding as a matter of law that they provided sufficient notice of the religious nature of his request (a question we do not decide), they certainly are sufficient to present a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Heartland had notice of the religious nature of the request,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the three-judge panel.
     Adeyeye’s religious beliefs and practices may not have been familiar to his employer, “but the protections of Title VII are not limited to familiar religions,” the ruling states.
     Pointing out that Adeyeye describes himself as Christian, Heartland argued that Adyeye did not perform his father’s funeral rites as part of a religious practice but to fulfill his filial duty and honor his father, which is not covered by Title VII.
     But Adeyeye clarified in his deposition testimony and declaration: “The Christian religion in which I was raised incorporates the traditional rites and customs of my village and family. Under these traditions, my father, as the head of the family, determined the religious practices, beliefs and customs for his household. I believe that I was spiritually compelled to follow these practices, beliefs, and customs in connection with the death and burial of my father.”
     Hamilton said that this statement is “consistent with an inter-generational form of faith and practice,” and criticized Heartland for asking the court to examine the content of Adeyeye’s religious beliefs.
     Title VII does not require courts to examine the reasoning why a person holds a religious belief, only if it is sincerely held, according to the ruling
     “A jury may very well find it relevant evidence of sincerity that Adeyeye was willing to risk his job and put up his car as collateral for a loan to fund his trip to Nigeria to participate in these burial rites,” Hamilton wrote.

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