Jenner & Block

Justices Urged to Review Denial of Police Officer’s Request for Religious Accommodation

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday will consider hearing a case that questions whether civil servants, such as police officers and firefighters, deserve special consideration for on-the-job duties that may conflict with their religious beliefs.  A Jenner & Block team, led by Associate Jeremy M. Taylor, filed the petition on behalf of an Indiana police officer who was terminated when he refused to accept an assignment as a full-time gaming commission agent at a casino in Michigan City, IN.

The assignment conflicted with the officer’s Baptist faith which prohibits the facilitation of gambling, according to a recent article on the case in Legal Times.  Despite the officer’s request to be reassigned to other duties, he was terminated when he did not report to work at the casino.

The petition for writ of certiorari argues that the officer’s Title VII rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were violated when he was not afforded “reasonable accommodations” for his religious practices.  Title VII requires employers to afford reasonable accommodations to various employee faiths.

The police officer, Benjamin P. Endres, Jr., filed a suit against the Indiana State Police, claiming that his civil rights were violated.  While a lower court determined that sovereign immunity did not bar the claim from being heard in federal court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit overturned the lower court’s decision, ruling that it did not have to consider the sovereign immunity question because Mr. Endres, as a police officer, could not state a viable claim for accommodation under Title VII.

In its petition to the Court, the Firm wrote that the Seventh Circuit decision sets a dangerous civil rights precedent.  “This judicially-created exemption from the requirements of Title VII is wholly unsupported by the text or history of Title VII and threatens the religious freedom of public servants in the Seventh Circuit,” Mr. Taylor wrote in the brief.

“Such an unprecedented, illogical, and unnecessary holding should not be permitted to stand in defiance of Congress’s intent and in detriment to the religious freedom of our uniformed civil servants,” the brief concluded.

Partner Barry Levenstam, Co-Chair of the Firm's Appellate and Supreme Court Practice, supervised the work of Mr. Taylor and Associate Lee J. Strang, who also was instrumental in the preparation of and research for the brief.  The Jenner & Block team also worked closely with the Rutherford Institute, who serve as Of Counsel to Mr. Endres on the matter.

The case is Endres v. Indiana State Police, No. 03-1183.

Please click here to view the Petition for Certiorari filed before the Court.