ESTATE OF THORNTON V. CALDOR, INC., 472 U. S. 703 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U.S. 703 (1985)

Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc.

No. 83-1158

Argued November 7, 1984

Decided June 26, 1985

472 U.S. 703


Petitioner's decedent, Donald E. Thornton, worked in a managerial position at a Connecticut store owned by respondent, which operated a chain of New England retail stores. In 1979, Thornton informed respondent that he would no longer work on Sundays, as was required by respondent as to managerial employees. Thornton invoked the Connecticut statute which provides:

"No person who states that a particular day of the week is observed as his Sabbath may be required by his employer to work on such day. An employee's refusal to work on his Sabbath shall not constitute grounds for his dismissal."

Thornton rejected respondent's offer either to transfer him to a management job in a Massachusetts store that was closed on Sundays, or to transfer him to a nonsupervisory position in the Connecticut store at a lower salary. Subsequently, respondent transferred Thornton to a clerical position in the Connecticut store; Thornton resigned two days later and filed a grievance with the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration, alleging that he was discharged from his manager's position in violation of the Connecticut statute. The Board sustained the grievance, ordering respondent to reinstate Thornton, and the Connecticut Superior Court affirmed the Board's ruling, concluding that the statute did not offend the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed.

Held: The Connecticut statute, by providing Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on their chosen Sabbath, violates the Establishment Clause. To meet constitutional requirements under that Clause, a statute must not only have a secular purpose and not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion, its primary effect must not advance or inhibit religion. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602. The Connecticut statute imposes on employers and employees an absolute duty to conform their business practices to the particular religious practices of an employee by enforcing observance of the Sabbath that the latter unilaterally designates. The State thus commands that Sabbath religious concerns automatically control over all secular interests at the workplace; the statute takes no account of the convenience or interests of the employer or those of other employees who do not observe a Sabbath. In granting unyielding weighting in favor of Sabbath observers over all other interests, the statute has a

Page 472 U. S. 704

primary effect that impermissibly advances a particular religious practice. Pp. 472 U. S. 708-711.

191 Conn.336, 464 A.2d 785, affirmed.

BURGR, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 472 U. S. 711. REHNQUIST, J., dissented.

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