Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (6)8 Aug 98
Quick Summary: Firing an employee for not getting a social security number is not religious discrimination.
In religious discrimination cases the courts are reluctant to scrutinize an individuals religious beliefs.
The courts do not require that an individuals religious beliefs be based upon the teachings of a recognized or organized denomination or sect.
However, even with the deferential standard the courts use in evaluating religious beliefs, nothing requires a court to accept an individuals conclusions about how our system of government functions just because the individual has labeled those conclusions a religious belief.
By law, every employee who is in employment for wages which are subject to FICA withholding must have applied for a social security number no later than seven days after commencing employment. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, MICHIGAN, 1998.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against a nursing facility on behalf of a person terminated from her employment as a competency evaluation nurse aide. The suit alleged religious discrimination. The United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan dismissed the suit.
The terminated employee had refused to apply for a social security number, based on her religious beliefs. She said she believed the Bible teaches it is the responsibility of the family and of the church, and not of the government, to care for persons who truly are unable to work. It is wrong, she believed, for the government to have welfare programs which confiscate money citizens have earned and give the money to persons who may be unable or who may be just unwilling to work.
As a general rule in religious discrimination cases the courts do not second-guess the sincerity of an employees religious beliefs. If an employee has a sincere religious belief which conflicts with an employers job requirement, and the employee informs the employer of the conflict, and the employer refuses to make reasonable accommodation or fires the employee, there is a legitimate case of religious discrimination, unless the employer has a legitimate justification for its actions.
In this case, the court did not question the sincerity of this employees belief it was morally wrong to participate in the Social Security system. However, the court discounted her belief the system allowed her the option of not having a Social Security number, because that belief was a legal conclusion that was plainly incorrect.
The employer was required by law to require the employee to get a Social Security number. Thus the employer had legal justification to go against the employees religious beliefs. E.E.O.C. v. Allendale Nursing Centre, 996 F. Supp. 712 (W.D. Mich., 1998).