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Cite as: Gent v Pride Ambulance Co, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, issued January 12, 2006 (Docket No. 252912).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

13. Refusal of Work

UIA v. JDM & Associates v. Yordy – 13.28

UIA v. JDM & Associates v Yordy
Digest No. 13.28

Section 421.29(1)(e)

Cite as: JDM & Assoc v Yordy, Muskegon County Circuit Court, issued August 30, 2005 (Docket No. 05-43773-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Sara B. Yordy
Employer: JDM & Associates
Docket no.: 176914W
Date of decision: August 30, 2005

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HOLDING: The Board’s decision to grant Yordy unemployment benefits was contrary to law. Yordy was not eligible for unemployment benefits because she failed without good cause to accept alternative suitable work offered to her by JDM.

FACTS: JDM & Associates had placed Yordy as an employee doing industrial work  at Hillite International from August 2002 to June 2003. When that job ended, JDM offered her other full-time employment doing industrial work at Whitehall Products on July 15, 2003. Yordy refused this offer because she wanted to work the second shift and the job was for the first shift. JDM gave her several other job offers which she also declined because of her desire to work second shift.

DECISION: The circuit court reversed the Board’s decision, which had found the claimant was not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits under Section 29(1)(e).

RATIONALE: The purpose of the Act is to provide benefits to workers who are involuntarily unemployed. If the Board’s decision that Yordy was eligible for benefits were to stand, it would allow employees who were offered suitable work to turn it down and still receive benefits. Alternatively, the Board would have to preemptively decide what constitutes suitable work each time an employer offered a substitute job, which the legislature could not have intended.

Digest Author: Alisa Hand, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 3/1/2016

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