Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Apropos of the season comes this news item from Howard Friedman's Religion Clause. Earlier this month, Gina Uberti filed this complaint in a federal district court in Connecticut against Bath & Body Works, her former employer. According to the complaint, Uberti was hired as a store manager and was promoted to district sales manager a few years later. For at least six years, and with the approval of two regional managers, the plaintiff who was a Wiccan, had taken the week surrounding October 31st off of work. October 31st/November 1st is Samhain one of the 4 main festivals observed in the Wiccan religion, arguably the most important, starting the new year.
Uberti had positive evaluations and bonuses consistently. She had asked for the week off early in the year, as usual, and as usual, the vacation was approved. Then she got a new boss. According to the complaint, in a phone conversation after Uberti returned from vacation, the new boss expressed displeasure at the vacation's timing. The timing conflicted with an important project within the company. Uberti explained that the vacation had been approved well in advance and explained its religious significance for her. In response, according to the complaint, the new manager said she would need a new job in the new year, called her claim of religion ridiculous, and said "I'll be damned if I have a devil-worshipper on my team." Two weeks later, Uberti was fired.
This one should pass a motion to dismiss--the facts as alleged would create an inference that the discharge was because the plaintiff was Wiccan, which the plaintiff identifies as her religion; the vacation was pre-approved, which suggests that the timing wasn't the reason for the termination; and the manager's comments suggest that she was hostile to the plaintiff's religion. It may even survive summary judgment if the issue comes down to what happened during that phone call.