Law School Case Brief
Mich. Dep't of Civil Rights ex rel. Parks v. Gen. Motors Corp., Fisher Body Div. - 412 Mich. 610, 317 N.W.2d 16 (1982)
The Fair Employment Practices Act's proscription of religious discrimination entails the obligation, on the part of the employer, to make reasonable accommodation to the religious needs of employees or prospective employees where such can be done without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business. The burden of proving that a reasonable accommodation cannot be made without such undue hardship is on the employer.
Plaintiff Mary Parks filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights ("Commission") against defendant General Motors Corporation ("GM") under the state's Fair Employment Practices Act ("FEPA"), charging that GM had dismissed her from its employment because her religious beliefs, as a Seventh-day Adventist, conflicted with her assigned hours of work. Parks' religion prohibited work on the Sabbath, between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday. She was assigned to work the second shift at one of GM"s plants from 4 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. After telling her foreman on the day before each Friday that she could not work the following day because of her religious beliefs, she failed to report to work on three consecutive Fridays. GM admitted that it terminated Parks’ employment without considering other action to accommodate her religious practice. The Commission found GM guilty of unlawful religious discrimination and ordered it to reinstate Parks with back pay and other benefits. On GM's appeal, the order was reversed by a Michigan circuit court. The circuit court's decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of Michigan. Thereafter, the Commission appealed.
Did the lower courts err by reversing the Commission's order finding GM guilty of unlawful religious discrimination?
The state supreme court reversed and remanded judgment of the court of appeals to determine whether there was a factual basis for a finding of discrimination based on evidence that GM failed to act affirmatively to avoid the discriminatory effect of a facially neutral practice. According to the court, while FEPA did not impose a separate obligation to accommodate the religious needs of employees, an employer could be required to act affirmatively to avoid discriminating against an employee because of religion.
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