Stay informed and ready to meet both everyday challenges and long-term planning and policy-making goals, with focused news, practical information, and strategic insights on all HR-related...
By Patrick Dorrian
Jan. 29 — A fundamentalist Christian rejected for work by an Ohio employer after failing to provide his Social Security number, allegedly for religious reasons, has no bias claim under federal or state law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled Jan. 28.
Affirming the dismissal of Donald Yeager's lawsuit against FirstEnergy Generation Corp., the court found that federal tax law requires all U.S. employers to collect the Social Security information of their employees. That rule isn't trumped by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act's prohibition against religious discrimination or the similar provisions of Ohio employment bias law, the court said.
The court noted that it was joining four other circuits in holding that “Title VII does not require an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if such accommodation would violate a federal statute.”
Yeager's federal and state claims fail for two reasons, the court said. FirstEnergy's obligation under the tax law prevented Yeager from showing a prima facie case of religious discrimination and accommodating Yeager's religious conviction would impose an undue hardship on the company.
In his March 2014 complaint, Yeager alleged that he “disclaimed and disavowed” his Social Security number upon turning 18.
Yeager asserted that a sincere belief of his fundamentalist Christian faith is to avoid or renounce the “mark of the beast,” or identification by any number. The Social Security system, he said, is an “enumeration at birth” program.
According to Yeager, FirstEnergy refused to hire him or terminated his employment for failing to provide a Social Security number even though he told the company he lacked a Social Security number because of a sincerely held religious conviction. FirstEnergy, he alleged, could have reasonably accommodated his religious belief without any undue hardship on its business.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in June 2014 dismissed Yeager's complaint for failure to state a claim for relief under either Title VII or Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112. Citing 26 U.S.C. § 6109 and federal regulations promulgated under that law, it found that the Internal Revenue Service “requires every employee to have a social security number,” so an employer's collection of that information is a legal requirement, not an employment requirement.
As a result, Yeager couldn't establish that he was forced to comply with a job rule that conflicted with his religious observance and thus couldn't prove a prima facie case under Title VII or Ohio law (123 FEP Cases 1400, 2014 BL 178986 (N.D. Ohio, June 27, 2014)).
Yeager appealed. He argued that the district court improperly dismissed his complaint and erroneously considered matters outside of the pleadings—federal tax law—in doing so.
The district court's recognition of internal revenue law and rules was not error, the Sixth Circuit said. It found that the Fourth, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth circuits have all held that employers can't be required to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs when doing so would violate another federal law.
“This conclusion is consistent with Title VII’s text, which says nothing that might license an employer to disregard other federal statutes in the name of reasonably accommodating an employee’s religious practices,” it wrote.
The court noted that the Fourth and Eighth circuits found that a statutory obligation, like federal tax law, isn't an “employment requirement.” Therefore, an employee claiming bias falters at the first step of the religious-accommodation analysis under Title VII and ORC Chapter 4112—showing a religious belief that conflicts with a job requirement. The Ninth and Tenth circuits, meanwhile, relied on the undue hardship analysis in rejecting such religious bias claims.
“These dual rationales arrive at the same, sensible conclusion,” the Sixth Circuit wrote, finding Yeager's complaint was properly dismissed on either basis.
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at firstname.lastname@example.org
Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/DONALD_J_YEAGER_PlaintiffAppellant_v_FIRSTENERGY_GENERATION_CORPO.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)