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U.S. Supreme Court

Ansonia Bd. of Educ v. Philbrook, 479 U.S. 60 (1986)

Ansonia Board of Education v. Philbrook

No. 85-495

Argued Oct. 14, 1986

Decided Nov. 17, 1986

479 U.S. 60


Respondent Philbrook (hereafter respondent), a teacher employed by petitioner school board (Board), is a member of a church whose tenets require members to refrain from secular employment during designated holy days, a practice that has caused respondent to miss approximately six schooldays each year. Under pertinent collective bargaining agreements between the Board and the teachers' union, teachers were granted three days' annual leave for observance of religious holidays, but could not use for religious observance any accumulated sick leave, three days of which were otherwise available for "necessary personal business." Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreements, respondent used the three days granted for religious holidays each year, and then either took unauthorized unpaid leave, scheduled required hospital visits on church holy days, or worked on those days. Respondent repeatedly asked the Board either to adopt the policy of allowing use of the three days of personal business leave for religious observance or, in the alternative, to allow him to pay the cost of a substitute and receive full pay for additional days off for religious observances. The Board consistently rejected both proposals, and respondent ultimately filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging that the Board had violated the prohibition against religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, particularly the Board's obligation under § 701(j) of the Act to

"reasonably accommodate to an employee's . . . religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business.

Page 479 U. S. 61

After trial, the District Court concluded that respondent had failed to prove a case of religious discrimination because he had not been placed by the Board in a position of violating his religion or losing his job. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that respondent had established a prima facie case of discrimination. The court then assumed that the Board's leave policy constituted a reasonable accommodation to respondent's belief, but held that where the employer and the employee each propose a reasonable accommodation, Title VII requires the employer to accept the employee's proposal unless that accommodation causes undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business. The case was remanded for consideration of the hardship that would result from respondent's suggestions."


1. This case presents no issue that requires, for purposes of Title VII religious accommodation claims, the establishing of a proof-scheme delineating a plaintiff's prima facie case and the shifting production burdens. The ultimate Title VII question of discrimination vel non was directly before the District Court, because the Board failed to persuade the court to dismiss the action for want of a prima facie case, and the case was fully tried on the merits. Thus, the issue whether respondent made out a prima facie case was no longer relevant. Cf. United States Postal Service Board of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U. S. 711. 479 U. S. 67-68.

2. Neither the terms nor the legislative history of § 701(j) supports the Court of Appeals' conclusion that an employer's accommodation obligation includes a duty to accept the employee's proposal unless that accommodation causes undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business. An employer has met its obligation under § 701(j) when it demonstrates that it has offered a reasonable accommodation to the employee. The employer need not further show that each of the employee's alternative accommodations would result in undue hardship. The extent of undue hardship on the employer's business is at issue only where the employer claims that it is unable to offer any reasonable accommodation without such hardship. Pp. 479 U. S. 68-69.

3. Because both of the courts below applied an erroneous view of the law, neither explicitly considered the question whether the Board's leave policy constituted a reasonable accommodation of respondent's religious beliefs. There are insufficient factual findings as to the manner in which the collective bargaining agreements have been interpreted in order for this Court to make that judgment initially. On remand, the District Court should make the necessary findings as to past and existing practice in the administration of the collective bargaining agreements. Pp. 479 U. S. 70-71.

757 F.2d 476, affirmed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., post, p. 479 U. S. 71, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 479 U. S. 75, filed opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. chanrobles.com-red

Page 479 U. S. 62


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