$240,000 Jury Award to Muslim Truck Drivers Who Were Fired for Refusing to Transport Alcohol
Eugene Volokh, Washington Post, October 23, 2015
One more data point on the “When does your religion legally excuse you from doing part of your job?” question–like it or not, under American law, employers sometimes do have to excuse employees from tasks that the employees find religiously objectionable. Tuesday, two Muslim truck drivers who were fired for refusing to deliver shipments containing alcohol were awarded $40,000 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages by the jury in their discrimination claim.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought suit on their behalf (EEOC v. Star Transport Co., Inc. (N.D. Ill.)), arguing that the employer had failed to provide “reasonable accommodations” to the employees–i.e., accommodations (including an exemption from job duties) that could be provided without “undue hardship” to the employer or others. The court noted that Star Transport had indeed often “swap[ped]’ loads between drivers,” and Star Transport conceded that it could have easily accommodated this request, too, but argued (unsuccessfully) that it shouldn’t be liable for punitive damages.