Gent v. Pride Ambulance Co. – 12.139

Gent v. Pride Ambulance Co.
Digest No. 12.139

Section 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Gent v Pride Ambulance Co, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, issued January 12, 2006 (Docket No. 252912).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Sheri L. Gent
Employer: Pride Ambulance Company
Date of decision: January 12, 2006

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HOLDING: Claimant was eligible for benefits when she was discharged from her employment for her refusal to work because claimant’s refusal to work was based on her conscientious observance of the Sabbath.

FACTS: Claimant was employed as a paramedic by Pride Ambulance. In September 2002, claimant informed her employer that she could no longer work on Saturdays because that was her Sabbath day. Claimant was a Seventh Day Adventist. Claimant had regularly worked Saturdays but decided to discontinue the practice, and arrangements were made to accommodate her after Saturday, October 5, 2002. Pride found a replacement worker for September 28, but not for October 5. When claimant informed Pride that she would not come into work on October 5, Pride informed her that such an action would be considered job abandonment. Claimant did not come to work on Saturday, October 5, and she turned in her uniform the following Monday.

DECISION: Affirming the Circuit Court, but on different grounds, the Court of Appeals held that regardless of the existence and application of general rules protecting the free exercise of religion, the clear language of the applicable employment security rules supports an award of unemployment benefits.

RATIONALE: The court relied on a Michigan Employment Security Commission rule, promulgated to implement section 29 of the MES Act. 1985 MR 6, R 421.209 stated: “An individual who refuses to work on the Sabbath designated by his or her religion, or who is discharged from work or voluntarily leaves work, solely because of the conscientious observance of the Sabbath…shall not…be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.” Pride offered no justification for their failure to follow the established rule for resolving this benefits dispute. The court considered analyzing any First Amendment issues as unnecessary because the claimant is eligible for unemployment benefits based on the plain language of the employment security rule. Therefore, the constitutional question need not be addressed.

Digest Author: Adam Kleven, Michigan Law, Class of 2018
Digest Updated: 1/6/2016

Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources v Smith – 19.06

Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources v Smith
Digest no. 19.06

Cite as: Employment Div, Oregon Dep’t of Human Resources v Smith, 110 S Ct 1595 (1990).

Appeal pending:
No
Claimant: Alfred Smith and Galen Black
Employer: N/A
Docket no.: S.Ct. 88-1213
Date of decision: April 17, 1990

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UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT HOLDING: Claimants discharged for using illegal drugs as part of a religious sacrament may be disqualified from receipt of unemployment compensation benefits without violation of First Amendment protections of the free exercise of religion.

FACTS: Claimant’s were discharged from their jobs at a private drug rehabilitation organization because they ingested peyote for sacramental purposes at a ceremony of the Native American Church of which both are members. They were determined to be disqualified for benefits because their discharge was for work related misconduct.

DECISION: Claimants are disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits when their discharge results from the use of illegal drugs even though the drug is part of a religious sacrament.

RATIONALE: If a State has prohibited through its criminal laws certain kinds of religiously motivated conduct without violating the First Amendment it follows that the State may impose the lesser burden of denying unemployment compensation benefits to persons who engage in that conduct. The right of free exercise of religion does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability.

Digest Author: Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: 12/91

Frazee v Illinois Dep’t of Employment Security – 19.03

Frazee v Illinois Department of Employment Security
Digest no. 19.03

Cite as: Frazee v Ill Dep’t of Employment Security, 450 US 707 (1989).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: William A. Frazee
Employer: Kelly Services
Docket no.: U.S. Supreme Court No. 87-1945
Date of decision: March 29, 1989

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UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT HOLDING: Where a claimant has a sincere belief that religion required him or her to refrain from the work in question they may invoke the protections of the First Amendment. It is not required that the claimant belong to an established religious sect for the claimant’s religious beliefs to be protected.

FACTS: Claimant refused a temporary position offered him by Kelly Services because the job required Sunday work. Claimant told Kelly that, as a Christian, he could not work on “the Lord’s day.” Claimant applied for unemployment benefits and was denied for his refusal to accept work on Sunday. Claimant was denied at every stage of the appeal process until the U.S. Supreme Court. The lower courts recognized the sincerity of his professed religious belief but found it was not entitled to First Amendment protection as he was not a member of an established sect or church and did not claim his refusal of work was based on a tenet of an established religious sect.

DECISION: Claimant’s refusal to work was based on a sincerely held religious belief. As such he was entitled to invoke the First Amendment protection and should not be denied benefits.

RATIONALE: In earlier cases the Court held where a claimant was forced to choose between fidelity to religious belief and employment, the forfeiture of unemployment benefits for choosing the former over the latter brings unlawful coercion to bear on the employee’s choice. In each case the Court concluded the denial of unemployment benefits violated the 1st and 14th Amendments. Though those claimants were members of a particular religious sect, none of those decisions turned on that fact, or on any tenet that forbade the work the claimants refused. The claimants’ judgments in those cases rested on the fact each had a sincere belief religion required him or her to refrain from the work he or she refused to perform.

Digest Author:  Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: 12/91

Hobbie v Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida – 19.04

Hobbie v Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida
Digest no. 19.04

Cite as: Hobbie v Unemployment Appeals Comm of Florida, 480 US 136 (1987).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Paula Hobbie
Employer: Lawton and Company
Docket no.: S.Ct. No. 85 993
Date of decision: February 25, 1987

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UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT HOLDING: When a State denies receipt of a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and violate his beliefs, that denial must be subjected to strict scrutiny and can be justified only by proof of a compelling state interest. The First Amendment protects the free exercise rights of employees who adopt religious beliefs or convert from one faith to another after being hired.

FACTS: Claimant worked for the employer for 2.5 years before her religious conversion and baptism into the Seventh Day Adventist Church. At that point she informed her supervisor that she could no longer work on her sabbath – sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Although her supervisor agreed to substitute for her whenever she was scheduled on her sabbath, the supervisors’ supervisor would not agree to that arrangement and instructed claimant to work as scheduled or resign. When claimant refused to do either she was discharged.

DECISION: Florida’s refusal to award unemployment compensation benefits to claimant violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

RATIONALE: The timing of claimant’s conversion in immaterial to the question of whether her free exercise rights have been burdened. Claimant was forced to choose between fidelity to her religious belief and continued employment. The forfeiture of unemployment benefits for choosing the former over the latter brings unlawful coercion to bear on the employee’s choice.

Digest Author:  Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: 12/91