13. Refusal of Work

Gent v. Pride Ambulance Co. – 12.139

Gent v. Pride Ambulance Co.
Digest No. 12.139

Section 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Gent v Pride Ambulance Co, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, issued January 12, 2006 (Docket No. 252912).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Sheri L. Gent
Employer: Pride Ambulance Company
Date of decision: January 12, 2006

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HOLDING: Claimant was eligible for benefits when she was discharged from her employment for her refusal to work because claimant’s refusal to work was based on her conscientious observance of the Sabbath.

FACTS: Claimant was employed as a paramedic by Pride Ambulance. In September 2002, claimant informed her employer that she could no longer work on Saturdays because that was her Sabbath day. Claimant was a Seventh Day Adventist. Claimant had regularly worked Saturdays but decided to discontinue the practice, and arrangements were made to accommodate her after Saturday, October 5, 2002. Pride found a replacement worker for September 28, but not for October 5. When claimant informed Pride that she would not come into work on October 5, Pride informed her that such an action would be considered job abandonment. Claimant did not come to work on Saturday, October 5, and she turned in her uniform the following Monday.

DECISION: Affirming the Circuit Court, but on different grounds, the Court of Appeals held that regardless of the existence and application of general rules protecting the free exercise of religion, the clear language of the applicable employment security rules supports an award of unemployment benefits.

RATIONALE: The court relied on a Michigan Employment Security Commission rule, promulgated to implement section 29 of the MES Act. 1985 MR 6, R 421.209 stated: “An individual who refuses to work on the Sabbath designated by his or her religion, or who is discharged from work or voluntarily leaves work, solely because of the conscientious observance of the Sabbath…shall not…be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.” Pride offered no justification for their failure to follow the established rule for resolving this benefits dispute. The court considered analyzing any First Amendment issues as unnecessary because the claimant is eligible for unemployment benefits based on the plain language of the employment security rule. Therefore, the constitutional question need not be addressed.

Digest Author: Adam Kleven, Michigan Law, Class of 2018
Digest Updated: 1/6/2016

19. Federal Court Decisions & TRA

Frazee v Illinois Dep’t of Employment Security – 19.03

Frazee v Illinois Department of Employment Security
Digest no. 19.03

Cite as: Frazee v Ill Dep’t of Employment Security, 489 U.S. 829 (1989).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: William A. Frazee
Employer: Kelly Services
Docket no.: U.S. Supreme Court No. 87-1945
Date of decision: March 29, 1989

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UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT HOLDING: Where a claimant has a sincere belief that religion required him or her to refrain from the work in question they may invoke the protections of the First Amendment. It is not required that the claimant belong to an established religious sect for the claimant’s religious beliefs to be protected.

FACTS: Claimant refused a temporary position offered him by Kelly Services because the job required Sunday work. Claimant told Kelly that, as a Christian, he could not work on “the Lord’s day.” Claimant applied for unemployment benefits and was denied for his refusal to accept work on Sunday. Claimant was denied at every stage of the appeal process until the U.S. Supreme Court. The lower courts recognized the sincerity of his professed religious belief but found it was not entitled to First Amendment protection as he was not a member of an established sect or church and did not claim his refusal of work was based on a tenet of an established religious sect.

DECISION: Claimant’s refusal to work was based on a sincerely held religious belief. As such he was entitled to invoke the First Amendment protection and should not be denied benefits.

RATIONALE: In earlier cases the Court held where a claimant was forced to choose between fidelity to religious belief and employment, the forfeiture of unemployment benefits for choosing the former over the latter brings unlawful coercion to bear on the employee’s choice. In each case the Court concluded the denial of unemployment benefits violated the 1st and 14th Amendments. Though those claimants were members of a particular religious sect, none of those decisions turned on that fact, or on any tenet that forbade the work the claimants refused. The claimants’ judgments in those cases rested on the fact each had a sincere belief religion required him or her to refrain from the work he or she refused to perform.

Digest Author:  Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: 12/91

07. Eligibility - Able & Available

Winstead v MESC – 7.12

Winstead v MESC
Digest no. 7.12

Section 28(1)(c)

Cite as: Winstead v MESC, unpublished opinion of the Washtenaw County Circuit Court, issued February 19, 1980 (Docket No. 79 17067 AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Mary Winstead
Employer: N/A
Docket no.: B76 18265 57846, et al.
Date of decision: February 19, 1980

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CIRCUIT COURT HOLDING: Insistence on time off to attend Wednesday night church services does not make a claimant unavailable for work.

FACTS: “In each of these decisions, the Board of Review affirmed decisions of referees which had held, in effect, that Ms. Winstead had not been ‘available to perform suitable full-time work’ within the meaning of the statute by reason of her insistence on attending Wednesday night worship services held by her church.”

DECISION: The claimant is available for work.

RATIONALE: “The MESC decisions below do not square with Sherbert v Vernor, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), and therefore are violative of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The decisions are also contrary to Swenson v MESC, 340 Mich 430 (1954), where the Michigan Supreme Court held that Seventh Day Adventists who could not work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday were ‘available for work’ within the meaning of the statute. The decisions are thus contrary to the law of this state as well as the Constitution of the United States.”

Digest Author: Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: