Third Circuit rules that requiring employees to provide letter from clergy to support accommodation request may constitute religious discrimination


workplace discrimination; workplace; work; religious discrimination

By: Shane Miller

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) recently made clear that an employer should avoid taking two actions when responding to an employee’s request for a workplace accommodation for a religious belief or practice.

First, the employer should not force the employee to provide a letter from a clergy member to support the sincerity of their professed religious belief.

Second, the employer should not require the employee to attend a mandatory workplace meeting on a day that the employer knows to be a holy day in the employee’s faith.

If the employer takes either action, the employee may have a viable religious discrimination claim against the employer.

The Third Circuit made both rulings in its recent decision in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Center One, LLC, et al., No. 22-2943, No. 22-2944, 2024 WL 379956 (3d Cir. Feb. 1, 2024). In this case, the plaintiff was hired as a customer care specialist for a call center in Pennsylvania. He practiced Messianic Judaism, which required him to abstain from work on certain religious holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The employee worked at the call center for about a month, then resigned.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) subsequently filed a lawsuit on the employee’s behalf, alleging that the call center engaged in religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Among other things, Title VII prohibits an employer from discharging any individual, or otherwise discriminating against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of the individual’s religion. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Although the call center never formally discharged the employee, the EEOC alleged that it constructively discharged him. A constructive discharge occurs when an employer “knowingly permit[s] conditions of discrimination in employment so intolerable that a reasonable person subject to them would resign.” Mandel v. M & Q Packaging Corp., 706 F.3d 157, 169 (3d Cir. 2013).

In most cases, it is difficult for an employee to prove that he or she was constructively discharged. But here, the Third Circuit ruled that the EEOC could possibly clear this high bar for a few reasons.

First, the call center told the employee that it could not accommodate his request to miss work to attend religious events unless he provided a letter from his congregation on official letterhead describing the dates and times that he needed to take off from work. In response, the employee provided the call center with an email from the head of his congregation and a calendar of holy days that he would observe. But for the call center, this email was not enough–it insisted that the employee provide an official clergy letter. The Third Circuit rejected this stringent requirement and ruled that a letter from a clergy person is not the only way that an employee can demonstrate the sincerity of their religious beliefs.

Second, as the call center and the employee discussed potential accommodations, the call center required him to attend a company meeting on Yom Kippur, despite allegedly knowing that it was a holy day for the employee. The Third Circuit ruled that knowingly scheduling a mandatory meeting on an employee’s religious holiday sends a clear message that the employee is unwelcome at the workplace and thus could support a constructive discharge claim.

Given these alleged facts, the Third Circuit held that the employee must receive the chance to prove to a jury that his employment situation at the call center was so intolerable that he felt compelled to resign. As the Third Circuit put it, “The doctrine of constructive discharge does not require an employee who is seeking religious accommodation to either violate the tenets of his faith or suffer the indignity and emotional discomfort of awaiting his inevitable termination.”

The Third Circuit’s decision in this case thus serves as a useful reminder that employers must be cautious in responding to all accommodation requests–including those for religious accommodations–and should consider consulting with legal counsel before taking action.

For more information, please contact Shane Miller at or your local FMG attorney.