A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has approved the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a 26-year veteran employee of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority who was suspended without pay because she stayed home to observe the concluding two days of Passover in 2013.
The Airports Authority claimed the employee did not follow procedures for requesting annual leave, which include accounting for absences due to religious observance. The employee manual required “an exchange of e-mails between the employee and supervisor” before annual leave could be taken.
The employee, Susan Abeles, actually had an e-mail exchange with her immediate supervisor’s supervisor, but this, as we understand it, was not deemed sufficient by the Airports Authority. Ms. Abeles actually followed the same procedure she had successfully followed, with different supervisors, since she began working for the Airports Authority in 1987, notifying them at the beginning of each calendar year of the days she would be taking off for religious observance.
Federal law requires employers to make a “reasonable accommodation” to the religious observances of their employees. Ms. Abeles is being represented by Nathan Lewin, the well-known advocate for Jewish religious rights who drafted the religious accommodation provision at issue here.
Briefs in support of Ms. Abeles in the appeals court were filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the American Jewish Committee, and COLPA, the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs.
In his oral argument to the three federal judges, Mr. Lewin called the suspension an “ambush” of Ms. Abeles. We agree, and are happy to hear that Mr. Lewin has filed a petition requesting a rehearing by either the three-judge panel or the full Court of Appeals and that he will seek review in the Supreme Court if necessary.