Dollar General Faces Trial on Sabbath Work Claim

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By Jon Steingart

July 15 — Dollar General Inc. must defend itself at trial against a Seventh-day Adventist store manager's claim that the company failed to accommodate his religious beliefs when it fired him after he said he was unable to work on the Sabbath, a federal judge in New Jersey ruled July 14 ( Webster v. Dollar Gen., Inc. , 2016 BL 226455, D.N.J., No. 1:13-cv-00690, 7/14/16 ).

“There’s a duty to accommodate if you can do so without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business,” Randy Davenport, the manager's attorney, told Bloomberg BNA July 15. “You can’t discriminate against someone on the basis of their religion.”

The company said giving Matthew Webster Saturdays off would create an undue hardship because of the challenge of bringing in a general manager from another location while maintaining coverage at both stores. Webster was in training to be the general manager in one of the company's stores.

Deposition testimony by the district manager indicated that having a general manager present on Saturdays was a company preference, not a necessity, Judge Jerome B. Simandle wrote for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

“Against that backdrop, the determination of whether a laundry-list of preferences qualifies as an undue burden rests with the jury, not this Court on summary judgment,” the judge said, denying Dollar General's motion.

“Dollar general has an adequate structure in place” to accommodate Webster's need for Saturdays off, Davenport said. If a store manager is unavailable, he can delegate duties to an assistant manager, the attorney said.

A Dollar General spokeswoman declined to comment July 15 because the litigation is ongoing.

The Law Office of Randy P. Davenport Esq. represented Webster. McGuireWoods LLP represented Dollar General.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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