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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Walmart Stores East LP

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 16, 2020



          BARBARA B. CRABB District Judge.

         Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought this lawsuit on behalf of Edward C. Hedican, contending that defendant Walmart Stores East LP and Walmart, Inc. engaged in religious discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In particular, plaintiff contends that defendant refused to accommodate Hedican's request to not work on Saturdays, which he observed as the Sabbath, and that defendant rescinded its offer of employment in retaliation for Hedican's request for a religious accommodation. Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that it offered Hedican a reasonable accommodation, that allowing Hedican to have every Saturday off would have been an undue hardship and that it did not retaliate against Hedican. Dkt. #19. Because I conclude that defendant offered Hedican a reasonable accommodation and has shown that it could not accommodate plaintiff's request to have every Saturday off without incurring undue hardship, I will grant defendant's motion.

         From the parties' proposed findings of facts and responses, I find the following facts to be material and undisputed unless otherwise noted.


         A. The Parties and Background

         In 2016, plaintiff Edward Hedican was a practicing Seventh Day Adventist. Hedican observed the Sabbath by refraining from work each week from sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday night.

         In April 2016, Hedican applied to become an assistant manager at defendant's store in Hayward, Wisconsin. Hayward is a vacation destination and resort town with many rental properties and vacation homes on its many lakes, and it is especially popular in the summer months. Hedican had two interviews and a store tour. Lori Ahern, defendant's market human resources manager, conducted a phone interview with Hedican. Ahern asked Hedican about his education and past employment, but did not discuss Hedican's availability or scheduling during the phone interview. About a week later, Hedican had a telephone interview with the Hayward store manager, Dale Buck. Buck talked to Hedican about the “Walmart philosophy” and asked Hedican about his education and experience, but Buck did not talk about scheduling with Hedican. During the store tour, Buck told Hedican that assistant managers were expected to work 45 hours a week, with varying schedules and different shifts, but Buck did not talk about specific schedules that assistant managers worked.

         On April 28, 2016, defendant made a conditional offer of employment to Hedican as an assistant manager. Defendant scheduled Hedican to start a training class in June 2016. If he had completed the training program successfully and passed his preemployment screening, Hedican would have begun working in the Hayward store as an assistant manager with the starting salary of $45, 000. According to the offer letter, Hedican would begin to acquire paid time off after he had worked for defendant for one full fiscal year.

         On May 1, 2016, Hedican accepted defendant's conditional offer of employment by email, and informed defendant that he was a Seventh Day Adventist, he observed the Sabbath and he would not be able to work any Saturdays until after sundown. He stated that he was available any other day of the week and could be available after sundown on Saturday nights if needed. This was the first time that Hedican told defendant that he had restrictions with respect to scheduling. Hedican told defendant that he would wait to complete the new hire paperwork until defendant confirmed that he would not be required to work Saturdays.

         When market human resources manager Ahern received Hedican's request for accommodation of his Sabbath, she sent Hedican's email to Hayward store manager Buck for his information. Ahern did not talk to Buck about the email at that time, and Buck did not talk to Hedican about his religious accommodation request. Ahern consulted defendant's religious accommodations guidelines. Defendant's policy at that time was to provide religious accommodations for applicants or associates to comply with their sincerely held religious beliefs unless the requested accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the business. Defendant's “religious accommodation guidelines” list the following as accommodations which may be necessary to accommodate a request for time off or a schedule change: flexible arrival and departure times; staggered work hours; and voluntary swaps with other associates. The guidelines state that if a salaried manager on a rotating schedule requests a schedule that would allow him or her to never work a particular day, the human resources representative or manager should determine the frequency with which the requestor is scheduled to work on the particular day in question. The guidelines recommend that the human resources representative or manager should advise the individual that he or she may be able to arrange a shift swap with another manager and that defendant can help facilitate that by providing an email or other means of communication. The guidelines also advise that all managers should work collaboratively and swap shifts as needed for personal or religious reasons. Finally, the guidelines state that whether an accommodation imposes an undue hardship must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and that the objections or resentment of other associates is not an undue hardship.

         On May 2, 2016, Ahern sent Hedican an accommodation request form to fill out. The form referred to disability accommodation and medical needs, and did not refer to religious accommodations specifically. Several of the questions on the form are irrelevant to religious accommodation requests. However, defendant did not have a specific form for religious accommodations and used some of the same forms in the religious accommodation process as it did for disability accommodations. Ahern told Hedican that defendant's Americans with Disabilities Act department would handle his accommodation request.

         Hedican returned the accommodation form to Ahern by email that same day, requesting “No Saturday workshifts for religious circumstances/beliefs . . . [f]or the entire term of employment.” (At his deposition, Hedican stated that he would not have been able to work on Fridays after sundown either, but agreed that his request to defendant was for Saturdays off.) Ahern forwarded Hedican's request to defendant's Accommodation Service Center. On May 11, 2016, the center returned Hedican's request for a religious accommodation to Ahern, stating that the center did not approve accommodations for religious beliefs and that Ahern should handle the request. Ahern felt comfortable handling the request, as she had previously addressed other requests for religious accommodations, including transferring an hourly manager into a position where he would not have to work Saturdays before sundown.

         Ahern considered several factors in determining whether defendant could accommodate Hedican's request for Saturdays off as an assistant manager at the Hayward store. She considered defendant's expectations for assistant managers, the assistant manager's role at the Hayward store in particular and the staffing and other needs of the Hayward store. (Ahern testified at her deposition that she discussed Hedican's request and how it would affect the store's operation with Buck the store manager, including how the request would affect stocking and recovery, coverage for management calls, coverage overall and rotations. However, Buck testified at his deposition that although he may have had a conversation with Ahern about Hedican's request, scheduling or other hourly supervisor positions that were available in the store, he could not recall the conversation.)

         Assistant managers, along with the store manager, play a key role in managing defendant's stores. The assistant manager's duties include hiring, training, mentoring, assigning and evaluating hourly associates, overseeing the stocking and rotation of merchandise, creating effective merchandise presentation, insuring accurate pricing, monitoring expenses, asset protection and safety controls, overseeing safety and operational reviews, analyzing reports and modeling proper customer service. All assistant managers are assigned to an area of responsibility within the store, where they are responsible for driving sales, supervising and developing hourly associates, meeting profit goals, assessing community needs and economic trends, participating in community outreach programs and insuring compliance with company policies. Areas of responsibility include: apparel; fresh; consumables; hard lines; entertainment; backroom; and overnights. Within each area of responsibility are multiple departments. For example, “apparel” includes clothing and shoes; “fresh” includes bakery, deli, meat and produce; and “overnights” includes cleaning, maintenance and stocking. Most departments have a ...

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