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June 27, 2005

Blockbuster pays $50,000 for telling a Jewish employee to remove Yarmulke

From the East Valley Tribune:

A nationwide video store chain has agreed to pay a $50,000 penalty for refusing to let a Scottsdale employee wear a yarmulke....

The case involves Leonard Teplitsky, a teenager when he was hired nearly three years ago to work at a Blockbuster store in Scottsdale. Teplitsky, who is Jewish, chose to wear a yarmulke.

According to the lawsuit, the store manager took Teplitsky outside and told him he must remove the yarmulke. The manager eventually relented — but only if Teplitsky wore “an officially approved Blockbuster hat.”

The following month, though, the regional manager told Teplitsky he was violating the dress code and that either the yarmulke had to go or he would be let go.

“Under duress, Mr. Teplitsky removed his yarmulke,” the lawsuit says.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed to file suit on his behalf.

Mary Jo O’Neill, EEOC’s regional attorney, said a company dress code, by itself, is not sufficient reason to deny a worker’s request.

“Conformity or customer preference is not a defense,” she said.

Blockbuster seems to be playing a strange game. While they insist they did nothing wrong, they also insist that company policy has always been to make accommodations in its dress code for religious or medical reasons. Yeah, how does that work?

The Judge in the case, U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Martone, signed the agreement only after hinting strongly that he would have given the case to Blockbuster. Kinda stupid since, as Blockbuster had to have known, it would have been quickly overturned. The judge cited Estate of Thornton V. Caldor, Inc., a case during an anti-Christian phase of the Supreme Court, when Burger was the Chief Justice, that saw many precedences since overturned. Rehnquist, the lone dissenter, is now Chief Justice. In Thornton a Connecticut statute barring employers from punishing employees for not working on the Sabbath was ruled unconstitutional. But in 1994 when Thornton was referred to, the Curt said the “statute impermissibly ‘singles out Sabbath observers for special . . . protection without according similar accommodation to ethical and religious beliefs and practices of other private employees’” adding that it wasn't just that the statute forced accommodation of religious practices, but that it did so unevenly. The ACLJ has an entire section devoted the that specific issue, in which they have successfully won cases in direct opposition to the misinterpretation of Thornton that Judge Martone was spouting.

Citing a lone (especially two decade old) Supreme Court case as reason for a decision is not really a good idea since the Supreme Court overrules itself so often. Thornton was a bad decision, and had Martone decided for Blockbuster, he would have been on very shaky ground.

Posted by Danny Carlton at June 27, 2005 07:25 AM

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