Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison,
432 U.S. 63 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977)

Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison

No. 75-1126

Argued March 30, 1977

Decided June 16, 1977*

432 U.S. 63


Respondent Hardison (hereafter respondent) was employed by Trans World Airlines (TWA), petitioner in No. 75-1126, in a department that operated 24 hours a day throughout the year in connection with an airplane maintenance and overhaul base. Respondent was subject to a seniority system in a collective bargaining agreement between TWA and the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (union), petitioner in No. 75-1385, whereby the most senior employees have first choice for job and shift assignments as they become available, and the most junior employees are required to work when enough employees to work at a particular time or in a particular job to fill TWA's needs cannot be found. Because respondent's religious beliefs prohibit him from working on Saturdays, attempts were made to accommodate him, and these were temporarily successful mainly because, on his job at the time, he had sufficient seniority regularly to observe Saturday as his Sabbath. But when he sought, and was transferred to, another job where he was asked to work Saturdays and where he had low seniority, problems began to arise. TWA agreed to permit the union to seek a change of work assignments, but the union was not willing to violate the seniority system, and respondent had insufficient seniority to bid for a shift having Saturdays off. After TWA rejected a proposal that respondent work only four days a week on the ground that this would impair critical function in the airline operations, no accommodation could be reached, and respondent was discharged for refusing to work on Saturdays. Then, having first invoked the administrative remedy provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, respondent brought an action for injunctive relief against TWA and the union, claiming that his discharge constituted religious discrimination in violation of § 703(a)(1) of the Act, which makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of his religion. He also made certain other charges against the union. His claim of religious discrimination was based on

Page 432 U. S. 64

the 1967 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines in effect at the time requiring an employer, short of "undue hardship," to make "reasonable accommodations" to the religious needs of its employees, and on similar language in the 1972 amendments to Title VII. The District Court ruled in favor of both TWA and the union, holding that the union's duty to accommodate respondent's religious beliefs did not require it to ignore the seniority system, and that TWA had satisfied its "reasonable accommodations" obligation. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment for the union but reversed the judgment for TWA, holding that TWA had not satisfied its duty to accommodate respondent's religious needs under the EEOC guidelines. The court took the view that TWA had rejected three reasonable alternatives, any one of which would have satisfied its obligation without undue hardship: (1) within the framework of the seniority system, TWA could have permitted respondent to work a four-day week, utilizing a supervisor or another worker on duty elsewhere, even though this would have caused other shop functions to suffer; (2) TWA could have filled respondent's Saturday shift from other available personnel, even though this would have involved premium overtime pay; and (3) TWA could have arranged a "swap" between respondent and another employee either for another shift or for the Sabbath days, even though this would have involved a breach of the seniority system.

Held: TWA, which made reasonable efforts to accommodate respondent's religious needs, did not violate Title VII, and each of the Court of Appeals' suggested alternatives would have been an undue hardship within the meaning of the statute as construed by the EEOC guidelines. Pp. 432 U. S. 76-85.

(a) The seniority system itself represented a significant accommodation to the needs, both religious and secular, of all of TWA's employees. Pp. 432 U. S. 77-78.

(b) TWA itself cannot be faulted for having failed to work out a shift or job swap for respondent. Both the union and TWA had agreed to the seniority system; the union was unwilling to entertain a variance over the objections of employees senior to respondent; and for TWA to have arranged unilaterally for a swap would have breached the collective bargaining agreement. An agreed-upon seniority system is not required to give way to accommodate religious observances, and it would be anomalous to conclude that, by "reasonable accommodations," Congress meant that an employer must deny the shift and job preferences of some employees, as well as deprive them of their contractual rights, in order to accommodate or prefer the religious needs of others. Title VII does not require an employer to go that far. Pp. 432 U. S. 79-81.

Page 432 U. S. 65

(c) Under § 703(h) of Title VII, absent a discriminatory purpose, the operation of a seniority system cannot be an unlawful employment practice even if the system is discriminatory in its effect. Pp. 432 U. S. 81-82.

(d) To require TWA to bear more than a de minimis cost in order to give respondent Saturdays off would be an undue hardship, for, like abandonment of the seniority system, to require TWA to bear additional costs when no such costs are incurred to give other employees the days off that they want would involve unequal treatment of employees on the basis of their religion. Absent clear statutory language or legislative history to the contrary, the statute, the paramount concern of which is to eliminate discrimination in employment, cannot be construed to require an employer to discriminate against some employees in order to enable others to observe their Sabbath. Pp. 432 U. S. 84-85.

527 F.2d 33, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 432 U. S. 85.

Page 432 U. S. 66

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