Monday, April 22, 2013

UC - voluntary quit - religion

Mathis v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – April 9, 2013


Worker quit without good cause, when he left employment because employer insisted that he wear an ID badge, which on the reverse side had the statement This company is not only a business, it is a ministry. It is set on standards that are higher than man’s own. Our goal is to run this company in a way most pleasing to the Lord. Treating employees and customers as we would want to be treated along with running a business as if we are all part of one big family is our plan

Claimant was aware at the time he was hired that he was required to wear the ID badge containing the mission statement as part of his uniform, and voiced no objection to it during his 21-month employment period, until his last day of work. The Board stated that Employer did not change the terms and conditions of Claimant’s employment, nor did he require Claimant to do anything in violation of his religious beliefs.

 The company handbook contained a statement “the company was dedicated to the Lord. After several years of the Lord providing for him, Dave wanted to give back to the Lord in some way. As an owner, he wanted to be able to help those who couldn’t afford a system. As an employer, he wanted to be able to give someone a second chance with a career at this company. Therefore, this company is not only a business, it is a ministry. It is set on standards that are higher than Dave’s own. His goal is to run this company in a way most pleasing to the Lord. This includes treating employees and customers as he would want to be treated.”  

In Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, et al., 450 U.S. 707 (1981), the United States Supreme Court held that the State of Indiana’s denial of unemployment compensation violated a claimant’s first amendment right to free exercise of religion, where the claimant, a Jehovah’s Witness, quit his job after he was transferred to a department that fabricated turrets for military tanks. In Thomas, the Supreme Court noted that the claimant’s termination flowed from the fact that the employment, once acceptable, became religiously objectionable because of changed conditions. 450 U.S. at 718. The Supreme Court stated “[w]here the state conditions receipt of an important benefit upon conduct proscribed by a religious faith, or where it denies such a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior or to violate his beliefs, a burden upon religion exists.” 450 U.S. at 717-718.

Here, there is no evidence of changed conditions; Claimant was required to wear a badge containing the mission statement from the beginning of his employment, approximately one year and nine months prior, but did not feel compelled to cover it or voice any objections until January 24, 2012.
 
In Monroe v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 535 A.2d 1222, 1224 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1988), the Court held that an actual conflict between a claimant’s sincerely held religious beliefs and his employment conditions may constitute cause of a necessitous and compelling nature for voluntary terminating employment. In Monroe, the Court remanded to the Board, for findings as to whether the claimant’s beliefs were sincerely held and religious in nature, and if so, whether or not there was an actual conflict between those be iefs and the employer’s job requirements. 535 A.2d at 1225-26.  
 
Sub judice, we find that Claimant did not meet his burden because he offered no evidence as to any sincerely held religious beliefs, nor did he attempt to describe any actual conflict between a religious belief and Employer’s requirement that the identification badge bearing the mission statement be worn. Owner testified at the initial hearing that his staff includes non-believers and members of other faiths besides his own; he stated that the mission statement was not a religious statement but rather a statement that sets forth certain values or basic rules for treating people.

Claimant argues before this Court that he was repeatedly harassed for his religious beliefs, but the hearing transcripts are devoid of such evidence, and the Board did not find that any such harassment occurred. Claimant admitted that he never spoke to anyone in management about his objections to the mission statement, and presented no evidence that he had ever requested an accommodation.

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