Exclusively Employment Law

California Fair Employment and Housing Commission v. Gemini Aluminum Corporation

by | Jan 7, 2020 | Discrimination

Plaintiff Lester Young (“Young”) filed a religious discrimination complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (the “Department”) against his former employer Gemini Aluminum Corporation (“Gemini”). Among other things, the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (the “Commission”) found that Gemini had discriminated against Young by failing to accommodate his religious beliefs in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (the “FEHA”).

Gemini subsequently filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate in Los Angeles County Superior Court to overturn the Commission’s decision – which petition the Superior Court granted. The Department appealed the Superior Court’s judgment, and the California Court of Appeal held in Young’s favor and reversed the Superior Court’s judgment. A summary of the California Court of Appeal’s decision — California Fair Employment and Housing Commission v. Gemini Aluminum Corporation, 122 Cal.App.4th 1004 (2004) — is set forth below.

In June 1997, Young, a Jehovah’s Witness, requested time off from Gemini for up to two days, Friday, June 27, 1997 and Saturday, June 28, 1997. Young made the request to his supervisor, Jack Kaufman, who was responsible for taking the time-off request to the management committee. Young told Kaufman that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and was scheduled to attend a religious convention beginning Friday, June 27, 1997. Young had been a Jehovah’s Witness since 1970, and had attended a Jehovah’s Witness convention every year except for one or two years. In the Jehovah’s Witness faith, attending the three-day convention is considered a form of worship and religious study.

Kaufman eventually submitted a written request for time off on Young’s behalf to Gemini’s management committee, stating that the reason was so that Young could attend a religious convention. The management committee denied the request.

On Thursday, June 26, 1997, Kaufman told Young that the management committee had denied the time-off request. Young discussed his religion with Kaufman and why he needed the days off. Young told Kaufman that would be attending the Jehovah’s Witness convention despite the denial of his request, and he did so. Young accordingly missed work on Friday, June 27, 1997.

When Young returned to work on Monday, June 30, 1997, he was given notice of a 10–day suspension for failing to show up for work on Friday and Saturday. Young told Kaufman that he thought the suspension was unfair because he felt obligated to attend the convention for religious reasons. A few days later, on either July 2 or 3, Young telephoned Kaufman, asked for a copy of the written request that Kaufman had submitted to the management committee, and told Kaufman that he was going to the “labor board.” Kaufman reported this conversation to the management committee, and Young was terminated a few days later.

The California Court of Appeal found that Young possessed a sincerely held religious belief as a Jehovah’s Witness and that his attendance at the convention was a “religious observance.” For instance, Young testified that he had been a Jehovah’s Witness since 1970, that he considered attending the convention to be a form of worship and religious study, and that he had attended almost every year since 1970.

In contrast, Gemini argued that the evidence did not show that Young had a bona fide “religious belief.” For instance, Gemini argued, Young admitted that he missed the convention once to go on a family vacation (which suggested that his attendance at the convention was not obligatory). Gemini also noted that Young never testified that he was required to attend the convention. Gemini further cited the testimony of Young’s daughter, who testified that while each congregation was assigned to attend a particular convention and members were strongly recommended to stay with one’s congregation, a member is also allowed to attend a different convention. Gemini contended that Young simply preferred to attend the particular convention at issue. In other words, the tenets of the Jehovah’s Witness religion did not require Young to attend that particular religion.

Finding in Young’s favor, the California Court of Appeal disagreed with Gemini. The California Court of Appeal noted that nothing in the FEHA “obligates an employer to accommodate only those religious practices that are required by the tenets of the employee’s religion, or that amount to a ‘temporal mandate’ of the religion.” (Gemini, 122 Cal.App.4th 1004, 1013 (2004).) “The relevant inquiry is the sincerity, not the verity of the employee’s religious beliefs.” (Id. at 1014.) Read the full California Court of Appeal opinion here.

If you have believe that you have been subjected to religious discrimination at work, call ((916) 612-0326) or email ([email protected]) Finley Employment Law today. We serve clients throughout California, including Sacramento, Roseville, Davis, Folsom, and Elk Grove.

The information in this blog post is for general informational and advertising purposes only and is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Instead, you should speak with a California employment attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.