The plaintiffs worked near the SeaTac airport preparing meals for service on trains and airplanes.?? ?Due to security concerns, the employees can neither bring food with them to work ?nor? leave? the ?premises ?to ?obtain ?food during? their ?30-minute ?lunch ?break.?? ?Instead, Gate Gourmet provides meals for employees to consume during their break.? ?The employees alleged that the employer deliberately refused to accommodate their religious and moral beliefs by providing meals consistent with their religious beliefs. ?They claimed that class members “have faced the choice of eating food forbidden by their sincerely held beliefs or not eating, have suffered offensive touching due to their contact with food prohibited by their beliefs, and have suffered distress as a result.” The employees brought claims for failure to accommodate their religion, battery and negligent ?infliction ?distress.???? The ?latter ?two claims were based on the employer?s subjecting them to meals that violated their religious beliefs without their knowledge and consent. The plaintiffs? claim was dismissed upon a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.?? With respect ?to ?the? religious ?accommodation ?claim, the trial court relied upon Short v. Battle Ground School District, 169 Wn. App. 188, 279 P.3d 902 (2012), which held that under the WLAD there is no cause of action for failure to reasonably accommodate religious practices.?? The Supreme Court granted direct review.?? ?The Court unanimously reversed on the common law tort claims.?? On the religious accommodation issue, the vote was 5-4. ?Justice McCloud wrote for the majority; Justice Madsen for the dissent.
In relevant part, the Court overruled Short v. Battle Ground.?? The Court relied upon federal law as guidance.? ??Under this test, a plaintiff establishes a prima facie claim of failure to accommodate religious practices by showing that (1) he or she had a bona fide religious belief, the practice of which conflicted with employment duties; (2) he or she informed the employer of the beliefs and the conflict; and (3) the employer responded ?by? subjecting? the ?employee ?to threatened ?or ?actual ?discriminatory? treatment.? ?To be sure, the employer can defend by showing that it offered the employee a reasonable accommodation or that an accommodation would be an ?undue hardship? on the employer.? ?Within this context an ?undue hardship? results whenever an accommodation “require[s an employer] to bear more than a de minimis cost.”? ?A “reasonable accommodation” need not be the precise accommodation the employee requests, and may be something other than a financial burden.?? An employer can defeat a religious accommodation claim by showing that valid concerns other than money, e.g., that the legal obligations or the interests of clients or other employees would be unduly burdened by an accommodation.
This standard of undue hardship differs significantly with the standard for undue hardship under the ADA or WLAD related to disability. Under the ADA, an ?undue hardship? is defined as ?an action requiring significant difficulty or expense.? See 42 U.S.C. ? 12111(10)(A). ?Within the disability context, determining whether an accommodation would involve undue hardship requires an examination of the nature and cost of the accommodation, the overall impact of the accommodation on the facility, the overall impact of the accommodation on the covered entity, and the?? type? ?of? ?operation? ?of? ?the?? covered? ?entity, including the composition, structure, and functions of the entity’s workforce. ?Id. at ? 12111(10)(B). The Court also ruled that the employees? allegations stated a claim for disparate impact because ?there ?existed ?a ?facially? neutral employment practice which falls more harshly on a protected class.? ?The employees stated a claim for ?battery? because ??Gate ?Gourmet ?deceived them ?into ?eating? food ?in ?violation ?of ?their religious beliefs, knowing that this would cause an offensive contact.?? ?In reference to the claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the Court ruled that the employees thus far failed to establish ?what, if any, specific objective symptomatology their harm entailed.? ?The case was remanded for additional proceedings on this issue.
Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., 180 Wn.2d 481,325 P.3d 193 (5/22/14)