Wednesday, December 06, 2017

UC - willful misconduct - good cause - religious belief

Kaite v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – November 29, 2017

Claimant had good cause to refuse employer direction for her to get a fingerprint background check, where she had a sincerely held religious belief against fingerprinting, in spite of the fact that she did not belong to an particular church or other religious organization. 

From the opinion:

The employer bears the burden of proving the existence of the work rule and its violation, and once the employer establishes that, the burden then shifts to the claimant to prove that the violation was for good cause. Oliver v. UCBR, 5 A.3d 432, 438 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010). Where the state denies benefits because of conduct mandated by a religious belief, putting substantial pressure on a person to modify behavior and violate that belief, a burden upon religion exists. Cassatt v. UCBR, 642 A.2d 657, 659 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1994). The burden that a denial places on a claimant’s right to free exercise must be sufficiently compelling to override the claimant’s First Amendment rights. Id.
The United States Supreme Court has held that a conditioning of the availability of benefits upon an employee’s willingnessto violate a cardinal principle of her religious faith effectively penalizes the free exercise of her constitutional liberties. Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 406 (1963).
The Board found that Petitioner’s beliefs were personal and not religious because the Petitioner, at the time of the hearing, indicated she is not a member of any formal, recognized or organized religion. (R.R. 37a.) The Board 8 concluded the beliefs were personal because she kept her religion quiet and only practiced in her home. Id. The United States Supreme Court rejected the notion that to claim the protection of the Free Exercise Clause one must be responding to the commands of a particular religious organization. Frazee v. Illinois Department of Employment Security, 489 U.S. 829, 834 (1989). This Court cautioned in Monroe that the Court must avoid any predisposition toward conventional religions so that unfamiliar faiths are not branded as secular beliefs. Monroe, 535 A.2d at 1225.   See also, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] v. Consol Energy, Inc., 860 F.3d 131 (4th Cir. 2017