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Cite as: Gent v Pride Ambulance Co, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, issued January 12, 2006 (Docket No. 252912).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

Hobbie v Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida – 19.04

Hobbie v Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida
Digest no. 19.04

Cite as: Hobbie v Unemployment Appeals Comm of Florida, 480 US 136 (1987).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Paula Hobbie
Employer: Lawton and Company
Docket no.: S.Ct. No. 85 993
Date of decision: February 25, 1987

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UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT HOLDING: When a State denies receipt of a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and violate his beliefs, that denial must be subjected to strict scrutiny and can be justified only by proof of a compelling state interest. The First Amendment protects the free exercise rights of employees who adopt religious beliefs or convert from one faith to another after being hired.

FACTS: Claimant worked for the employer for 2.5 years before her religious conversion and baptism into the Seventh Day Adventist Church. At that point she informed her supervisor that she could no longer work on her sabbath – sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Although her supervisor agreed to substitute for her whenever she was scheduled on her sabbath, the supervisors’ supervisor would not agree to that arrangement and instructed claimant to work as scheduled or resign. When claimant refused to do either she was discharged.

DECISION: Florida’s refusal to award unemployment compensation benefits to claimant violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

RATIONALE: The timing of claimant’s conversion in immaterial to the question of whether her free exercise rights have been burdened. Claimant was forced to choose between fidelity to her religious belief and continued employment. The forfeiture of unemployment benefits for choosing the former over the latter brings unlawful coercion to bear on the employee’s choice.

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

07. Eligibility - Able & Available

Swenson v MESC – 7.05

Swenson v MESC
Digest no. 7.05

Section 28(1)(c)

Cite as: Swenson v MESC, 340 Mich 430 (1954).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Bessie Swenson
Employer: Battle Creek Food Company
Docket no.: B1 1131 13361
Date of decision: September 8, 1954

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SUPREME COURT HOLDING: Claimants are not unavailable for benefits because they cannot work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

FACTS: Claimants, packers for Battle Creek Food Company, were laid off due to lack of work. The Commission denied benefits to Claimants, Seventh Day Adventists, on the basis that they were unavailable for work, since their religion forbid them from working from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Claimants had not been offered any employment, and therefore had never refused any.

DECISION: Claimants are eligible for benefits under the availability provision of the MES Act.

RATIONALE: The Supreme Court adopted the reasoning of the trial judge, stating that:

“To exclude such persons would be arbitrary discrimination when there is no sound foundation, in fact, for the distinction, and the purposes of and theory of the act are not thereby served. Seventh Day Adventists, as a matter of fact, do not remove themselves from the labor market by stopping work on sundown Friday and not resuming work until sundown Saturday, as is apparent from the reason that employers do hire them.”

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