United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON ACCOMMODATION CLAIMS
ROBERT S. LASNIK, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on "Defendants' Second Motion for Partial Summary Judgment." Dkt. # 69. Plaintiff alleges that defendants failed to accommodate his religion in violation of Title VII and the Washington Law Against Discrimination ("WLAD"). In order to state a cause of action for failure to accommodate, plaintiff must make a prima facie showing that "(1) he had a bona fide religious belief, the practice of which conflicts with an employment duty; (2) he informed his employer of the belief and conflict; and (3) the employer discharged, threatened, or otherwise subjected him to an adverse employment action because of his inability to fulfill the job requirement." Berry v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 447 F.3d 642, 655 (9th Cir. 2006). Having reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits submitted by the parties,  the Court finds that plaintiff is unable to establish the third element of the prima facie case and has therefore failed to raise an inference of an unlawful failure to accommodate.
It is undisputed that when plaintiff requested a flexible break schedule so that he could participate in daily prayers during the workday, Michael DiPietro, on behalf of the employer, granted the request. Plaintiff was permitted to take his morning coffee break at any point during the day so that he could complete his ablutions and prayers on the schedule dictated by his religion. Plaintiff did not request, and was not given, additional break time in which to accomplish his religious observances: he was simply given the flexibility to use his 45 minutes of break time whenever it was religiously appropriate. Plaintiff argues, however, that the accommodation was somehow invalidated or otherwise made ineffective - i.e., that there was a failure to accommodate - because Luigi DiPietro, his supervisor, harassed plaintiff for praying. In particular, plaintiff alleges that Luigi did not like the idea of prayer in the workplace, accused plaintiff of praying on company time rather than on his breaks, was disrespectful of plaintiff's observances, and interfered with plaintiff's ablution practices. While these activities may help establish plaintiff's claims of harassment and religious discrimination, they do not change the fact that plaintiff was granted the accommodation he requested, that the accommodation allowed him to resolve the scheduling conflict between his employment duties and his religious beliefs, and that he was never disciplined for praying during the workday.
Plaintiff alleges that "the employer discharged, threatened, or otherwise subjected him to an adverse employment action" because Luigi repeatedly threatened to discipline him for praying during the workday despite the accommodation. The point of the prima facie case, however, is to establish a minimum set of facts from which one can reasonably infer that a failure to accommodate occurred, thereby shifting the burden to the employer to show that it offered a reasonable accommodation that was rejected by the employee or that no accommodation was possible without "undue hardship." See Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 358 F.3d 599, 606 (9th Cir. 2004). The word "threatened" in the burden-shifting framework comes into play when the response to a request for accommodation is a threat of adverse employment action. See Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., 180 Wn.2d 481, 501-02 (2014) (the third element is satisfied if "the employer responded by subjecting the employee to threatened or actual discriminatory treatment"). Where an employer holds to its original employment policies - i.e., it refuses to accommodate the religious practice under threat of discipline - courts have held that the employee need not force the issue and trigger termination or disciplinary action in order to maintain a claim for failure to accommodate. See Berry, 447 F.3d at 655 (formally instructing an employee "not to pray with or proselytize to clients" was an implicit threat of adverse action sufficient to satisfy the third element); Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Townley Eng'g & Mfg. Co., 859 F.2d 610, 614 n.5 (9th Cir. 1988) ("An employee does not cease to be discriminated against because he temporarily gives up his religious practice and to the employment policy."). In this case, however, it is undisputed that the employer provided the accommodation plaintiff requested. Plaintiff has not identified, and the Court has not found, any case in which the court inferred that the employer had failed to accommodate an employee's religious practices where it in fact granted the very accommodation requested. Luigi's alleged harassing behavior in contravention of the accommodation may, as discussed above, be evidence in support of plaintiff's other claims, but it does not give rise to an inference that the employer failed to accommodate plaintiff's need for flexibility in his schedule in order to pray.
For all of the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that plaintiff has not raised a reasonable inference that his employer failed to accommodate his religious practices. Defendants' second motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. # 69) is therefore GRANTED, and ...