June 12, 2015

Adventist Awarded $150,000 Over Sabbath Dismissal

, news editor, Adventist Review

A U.S. federal judge has ruled that a Seventh-day Adventist employee was fired in apparent retaliation for his refusal to work on Sabbath and awarded him more than $150,000 in back pay.

Sean Mohammed lost his job as assistant manager at Mini Price Storage, a chain of self-storage businesses based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in 2011 after a run-in with a new supervisor over Sabbath work, The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson ordered Mini Price Storage to pay $150,730 in back wages, as well as lawyers’ fees and court expenses.

“This is vindication,” Mohammed’s lawyer Ari Wilkenfeld told the newspaper.

Wilkenfeld said his client had struggled to secure work after his dismissal and now was in debt.

“The results are very gratifying,” he said, adding that Mohammed had wept when they discussed the court’s decision. “This is life changing for him.”

A lawyer for Mini Price Storage denied that Mohammed’s dismissal had been retaliatory and said the company would file an appeal.

According to the court ruling cited in The Virginian-Pilot, Mohammed notified the company during a job interview in 2007 that he was able to work any time except during the Sabbath hours from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.

But a new superior scheduled Mohammed to work on Saturdays in 2010. Mohammed declined, and his schedule was changed to give him the day off.

After the incident, however, the new manager, Tashondi Goodman, instigated numerous conversations and e-mails about Mohammed’s job performance. Mohammed was fired about six months later over what Goodman called his “lack of performance and lack of work.”

Wilkenfeld, the lawyer, said Goodman documented Mohammed’s performance with a special form that she had never used with anyone else and that she “wasn’t able to stick to one story” in explaining her rationale for firing him to the judge.

The judge noted that Mohammed had been found to be an “excellent” employee in “secret shop evaluations” from 2008 to 2010 and that one of the evaluations had described him as “providing the best experience across all of Mini Price.”

A number of Seventh-day Adventist workers have turned to U.S. courts to protect their freedom to worship over the years. In April, three retired federal government employees who worked as ushers for the Washington Nationals went to court on accusations that the baseball team changed its work policy to prevent ushers from skipping games between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday to observe the Sabbath.

In September, a U.S. government watchdog sued a franchisee of the Dunkin' Donuts restaurant chain, saying it withdrew a job offer to an Adventist who declined to start his first day of work on a Friday night. That case is ongoing.

In July 2014, 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.