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July 20, 2011

Leave for religious holidays

Leave for religious holidays
Burns v The Warwick Valley CSD, USDC, SDNY, 166 F. Supp. 2d 881

Warwick Valley Central School District teachers sued the district contending that the district's policy of asking about the religious tenets of employees' religion before granting “personal leave” for religious observances was unconstitutional. The teachers asked federal district court Justice McMahon to bar the district from making such inquiries in the future.

According to the teachers, the district's “new policy” implementing a Taylor Law contract in connection with the use of personal leave for religious observances provided for the district to first inquire about “formal religious practices of an applicant's organized religion.” If the District saw no conflict between those practices and working hours, it then made an inquiry testing the sincerity of the teacher's beliefs.*

The court ruled that the teachers did not show that the district's policy is likely to cause them recurring injury, noting that the parties stipulated that the district has given teachers all the leave they have requested since the new policy was implemented. This, said the Federal District Court, meant that the teachers did not have standing to sue, and granted the district's motion for summary judgment.

* In Port Washington USFD v Port Washington TA, 268 A.D.2d 523, motion for leave to appeal denied, 95 N.Y.2d 761, the Appellate Division ruled that a Taylor Law contract provision allowing an individual to be absent on a religious holiday with pay without charging his or her absence to leave credits violates the First Amendment. 

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