April 11, 2015

3 Adventists Sue U.S. Baseball Team Over Sabbath

Three Seventh-day Adventists took a U.S. baseball team to court this week on accusations of being fired over their refusal to work on Sabbaths.

The three men — retired federal government employees who worked as ushers for the Washington Nationals — said the baseball team recently changed its work policy for ushers, preventing them from skipping games between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday to observe the Sabbath.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Washington D.C., says the plaintiffs were allowed to observe the Sabbath up through the 2013 baseball season.

"At the end of the season, though, the Nats decided to fire them because their religion required accommodation," it says.

The plaintiffs, Tony Green, Lloyd Cobey, and Ralph Jones,are seeking unspecified compensation for lost wages and damages.

“All three performed their jobs well, and regularly received praise from their supervisors,” the lawsuit says.

Read the lawsuit here (PDF)

A Nationals’ spokesman said the team had no comment about the lawsuit, according to local NBC television.

The Nationals, founded in 1969 as Canada’s first major league baseball team, the Montreal Expos, was renamed and moved to Washington for the 2005 season. It is one of only two major league baseball teams never to have played in a World Series baseball championship.

Ushers help people find their seats at the ballpark and make sure that they comply with the rules. The part-time job is limited to home games and other events at the ballpark, including a Paul McCartney concert last year. Ushers are required to show up about an hour before an event and stay a couple hours after it ends.

The Adventists’ troubles arose when the Nationals changed its work policy to require ushers to work at 80 percent of all events, said Todd R. McFarland, associate general counsel for the Adventist world church, who has spoken with the plaintiffs and their lawyer but is not involved in the lawsuit.

Even as the work policy changed, the team increased the number of home games and concerts that were being held at the ballpark on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, according to the lawsuit.

“They were terminated because they weren’t able to make the 80 percent mark,” McFarland said by phone Friday.

He said the baseball team could have easily accommodated the trio by waiving the 80 percent requirement.

A number of Seventh-day Adventist workers have turned to U.S. courts to protect their freedom to worship over the years. In a recent case, a U.S. government watchdog sued a franchisee of the Dunkin' Donuts restaurant chain in September, saying it withdrew a job offer to a Seventh-day Adventist who declined to start his first day of work on a Friday night. That case is ongoing in a North Carolina court.

Read “Dunkin’ Donuts Franchisee Charged With Sabbath Discrimination”

In July, an Adventist air traffic controller, Matthew Gray, won a complaint against a U.S. government labor union that ordered him to work on Sabbath in retaliation for his decision to quit the union.

Read “Adventist Air Traffic Controller Wins Sabbath Case”

McFarland said the Seventh-day Adventist Church supports Sabbath discrimination lawsuits and is engaged in a number of them at any given time.

“It is a last resort, but we absolutely support such cases,” he said. “That’s the biggest part of my job, representing Adventists over Sabbath cases.”