Christian Employee Seeks Appeal for Refusing to Work on Sundays

Devout Christian Celestina Mba is pursuing legal action after being let go from a job for refusing to work on Sunday.

Celestina Mba

Even though the former caretaker lost her case in a lower court, she is now taking it to the court of appeals. Her success could introduce a whole new set of religious “rights” into the workplace, including days off for any religious group that claims it:

If the court rules for Mba it would also mean Muslims would have the right to take Fridays off and Jews to be excused from Friday and Saturday.

Andrea Williams, the founder of the Christian Legal Centre working on behalf of Mba, had this to say about the case:

“We are seeing secular courts ruling on core components of Christian practice. The courts have acted to protect the kara bracelet of the Sikhs, Afro cornrow haircuts, the wearing of the hijab and a Muslim’s right to fast, but have refused to grant protection to the cross of the Christian Sunday.”

Did you hear that secular courts? If “Afro” cornrow haircuts and kara bracelets are allowed in the workplace, then Christians shouldn’t have to work on Sundays!

One of the issues at hand is whether her employer offered her “reasonable accommodation” for her beliefs. Initially, her employers gave her Sundays off, but they eventually decided that when patient care was needed on weekends, it made the most sense to rotate weekend work-dates between all employees, including Mba. They weren’t discriminating against Christians, as Mba’s team is claiming, just as they’re not discriminating against Jewish employees by having them work on Fridays.

Hopefully, the court of appeals sees it that way, too.

About Lauren Lane

Lauren Lane is the co-founder of Skepticon, the Midwest's largest skeptic student-run conference and remains a lead organizer today. She has not one, but TWO fancy art degrees and is not afraid to use them.

  • WallofSleep

    1) If you don’t want to work on Sundays, find yourself a job that doesn’t require you to work on Sundays. Funny how the religious right is all about bootstraps, “sucking it up”, and not giving half a shit about employee’s rights until a Christian starts squawking.

    2) There is no such thing as an afro-cornrow. Show me one, and I’ll be fucking amazed. I might even shit a purple twinkee.

    • Jeff

      Twinkee’s come in purple? When the hell did that happen?

      • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

        If he can shit out a perfect twinkee the color shouldn’t matter.

        • WallofSleep

          I like the way you think. Here, have a twinkee.

      • WallofSleep

        “I’d shit a brick”
        “I’d shit a cow”
        “I’d shit a purple twinkee”

        You’ve not heard the third in the list? That one was quite popular in the 80s.

        • Artor

          I’d heard purple nickels, but not Twinkies.

          • WallofSleep

            Hmm. Must be a regional thing. I myself have never heard of shitting purple nickles, but you know that’s gonna end up in my rotation now.

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              You… have a rotation for this?

              • WallofSleep

                Cows, bricks, twinkees. Ya gotta shit something when you’re surprised. Now I’ve got purple nickels. Don’t judge me. Don’t you dare judge me.

        • Jeff

          Nope, new one to me. Wow, I knew I loved this group, I learn something new everyday

    • Pseudonym

      If you don’t want to work on Sundays, find yourself a job that doesn’t require you to work on Sundays.

      That’s exactly what happened. She got a job that didn’t require working on Sundays, and then the employer changed that.

      Here’s one additional rather important detail from the news report which was omitted in the write-up: “Shopworkers are already excused from working Sundays but workers in any other sector can be forced to work.”

      I don’t know how accurate the news report is, but this sounds like a standard labour dispute to me. She got a job under certain conditions, the employer changed those conditions, and she is challenging it. This sort of thing happens every day.

      In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the only reason why she brought up religion in the case is to add an additional human rights argument.

      • David McNerney

        I would imagine the lower court examined the contractual issue and found that the employer is entitled to roster her on a Sunday – and given the nature of the work, I would imagine the contract was clear on that. This is a public sector employer – their contracts are generally bulletproof.

        The people in care here are 24/7, they don’t take Sunday off – I don’t think it can be said to be unreasonable that you might be expected to work on a Sunday – and if this bothers her for religious reasons she should not have taken the job.

        • Pseudonym

          Right. I’m not drawing a conclusion on who is legally in the right.

          I do agree with an observation below that mandatory rotating shifts are a pretty shitty thing for an employer to do; everyone who has a life has out-of-work responsibilities which can’t always be worked around. If the employees can work out a roster among themselves which covers the whole work week, it’s better for everyone.

          The “conditions” that I’m referring to which changed (and I wasn’t clear about this) are the rotating shifts. If that happened to me, I’d try to challenge it too.

          Forgetful Orange’s clarification below is well-taken. The fact that she didn’t bring up the reason why she didn’t want to work on Sundays is, to me, even more evidence that the religious angle may have been added by her lawyer to try to make an additional human rights case. Though it’s also true that outside the US, talking about your religion at work is a breach of etiquette.

        • websurfer

          So she is a Christian. Back to basics: what do the Gospels report that Jesus said or did about working on the “Sabbath”? Seems to me, along those lines and given her work, she has no case.

      • Forgetful Orange

        >> That’s exactly what happened. She got a job that didn’t require working on Sundays, and then the employer changed that.

        Well gets the plain facts right: “She said she had told her employer she had “difficulties” working on Sundays before she was employed, but did not specify…”

        And let’s be real here. She worked at a “care house” for children with disabilities.. and you’re suggesting she signed up assuming that they never need (ever) need her to care on Sundays?

        • Pseudonym

          I am indeed suggesting that she signed up with the understanding that they usually wouldn’t need her specifically to work on Sundays, unless there was an emergency (e.g. whoever was scheduled to do it that day was sick).

          She certainly signed up before the rotating shift system was introduced. That is a change of conditions, and IMO it is her legal right to dispute it.

    • God’s Starship

      Okay, if they are breaking a contract that’s one thing, in which case I hope she gets her way. On the other hand, they probably have flexibility to shift people around. The reality is it’s a job and you can’t always get what you want.

  • Amor DeCosmos

    Ohhhhh I so hope she wins! As a devout Pastafarian, that will mean that, legally, I don’t have to work on Fridays any more. This is a win for everyone who doesn’t like to work!

    • WallofSleep

      Perhaps that’s what needs to happen. Thousands of colander-heads dedicated to living it as if it were true, and flooding the system with every religious grievance they can conceive of. Perhaps then our elected officials will see how foolish it is to cow-tow to the superstitious, and return to our nation’s secular foundation. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

    • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Do you live in London?

      • Amor DeCosmos

        small technicality…

    • lmern

      R’Amen!

    • Chris Hollis

      You don’t have to work now! That is if you do not value your job.

    • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

      So we get Fridays off if she wins and Christians don’t get special privileges if she loses. Win/win for us with this one!

    • Brett N

      And a win for non-religious people who do like to work, if she wins. Guess who’s going to be suddenly selected FOR!

    • Abbé Faria

      According to the teachings of the Macaroni Prophet, every day except wednesday is a holy day.

  • code_monkey_steve

    a Muslim’s right to fast

    Wait, what? Only Muslim Americans have the right to not eat?

    Actually, that would explain a lot.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, TOWAN

      not in Gitmo, they don’t.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        I’m going to hell for laughing at that.

  • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

    And here I thought this was taking place in the United States, which it is not. I doubt her case would get very far if it was.

    • WallofSleep

      Cold comfort, but sometimes it’s nice to hear that my countrymen/women aren’t the only ones capable of bat-shit insanity.

      • Jeff

        Well, it takes an “Murikan” to get the best bat-shit insanity.

        • WallofSleep

          Not really. All in all we’re still a pretty new nation, so that shit ain’t at all unique to the states. In fact, we acquired that kind of bat-shit insanity from the pros… our European predecessors. I’d say “thanks”, but…

    • Pseudonym

      She certainly wouldn’t get very far in a “right to work” state.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, TOWAN

        ironically, which are usually the highly religious ones.

    • God’s Starship

      Yeah, nobody in America cares about the “religious freedom” of the working poor.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    My religion says that all businesses I go to should give me as much money as I want for doing nothing so giveme. If not I will sue because you violate my religious views that make as much sense as thinking your god doesn’t want you to work on sundays.

    • WallofSleep

      Interestingly the commandment to hold the sabbath holy, which forbids you from work of any kind on that day, is also interpreted as forbidding you from causing others, of any religion or none at all, to work on the sabbath.

      This means not eating out, nor engaging in any trade of goods, services, or money. Truly orthodox jews won’t even allow their appliances to draw electricity on those days.

      With that in mind, and the fact that xtians consider sunday to be their sabbath, would they not then be violating said commandment by going to church on sundays, causing said church staff to also violate said commandment by working?

      • Acntshair

        Good questions but what are we going to do about all the god damned homosexuals?!?! Priorities, sir!

        • WallofSleep

          I’m a heterosexual, so my interest in homosexuals is limited. But hey, if that’s what these christians are truly interested in, well…

        • Matt D

          How about sending us a gift basket of assorted meats and cheeses, with some choice wines and crackers?

          I’m pretty hungry and I like to share, so it’s a win-win, but don’t skimp on the Grey Poupon!

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        Although they don’t mind making up bizarre loopholes to get around the restrictions. I once saw a list of inventions, including ones where a phone was already set to dial, and you just did something that allowed something else to happen that let the phone dial.

        Or theres: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shabbat_lamp

        • WallofSleep

          An odd faith, is it not? They even have designated zones were certain sabbath-forbidden activities can take place without actually angering their deity.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eruv

          Funny, the Jews studied for centuries to find ways to break the unbend-able law, yet Christians just make shit up off the top of their heads to do the same. I still don’t know which is more insane.

          • David Kopp

            Yes

    • Mark W.

      Sooo, you’re Christian?

  • God’s Starship

    Eh… I’m one of the biggest cheerleaders for workers rights and fighting for the best deal you can get…. but at the end of the day you have to show up and be reasonably available for the job. In this case, maybe she should seek a line of work that doesn’t require her to work on Sundays. I know, easier said than done, but I’ve never been picky about what day of the week my shifts fall on. It’s a job. She should organize her free time around it just like the rest of us.

  • Conuly

    This is one of those things that seems reasonable on a superficial level, but falls all apart once you realize that Christians may outnumber non-Christians. Letting them all take their own sabbath off might well leave them unstaffed Sundays.

    Although, if the article is to be believed, she was always able to find somebody to cover her Sunday shifts. If another co-worker is willing to trade her Sunday shift for, say, a Friday night shift, I don’t quite see why that is a problem.

    • Acntshair

      It would also mean I’m a Jewish Muslim Christian Hindu Shockalaka and I’ll see you Thursdays, noon til 1 pm, boss, and I hope you understand otherwise see you in court!

      • Amor DeCosmos

        Glad to see another Shockalakaian here. There are so very few of us who believe in Shockalaka. I hope you’re Orthodox and not one of those damned Reformed Shockalakians.

  • Acntshair

    Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays for this very reason, get a job there.

    • Oswald Carnes

      Please tell me the godawful food Chik Filler serves has not made its way to England.

  • Beth

    No one likes when their boss changes the rules, but it happens. You can suck it up, negotiate, or leave.

  • Scott

    I’ve always been of the mind that if you have enough employees to work with their wants and needs, do so. Instead you usually get asshole bosses that want to make everyone equally miserable instead of letting the workers determine their shifts by their own wants and needs. If someone wants Sundays off because of their religion… how about asking if someone actually wants to take Sundays and she can work the shift they want off. Problem solved, no lawsuit… This goes for a lot of other situations, needing to get a kid to an appointment, going to an event… geez, let people ask if a fellow employee will switch. My wife has worked places that had these idiotic ‘rotating’ shifts where you never knew what you were doing a week out ‘to be fair to everyone’ No idea when you were going in, getting home, what days you’d have off… and absolutely no reason for it. Not a job where you needed to do that because of people’s skills being needed at a moment’s notice… nope, cashiering at a store with 16 cash registers always open the same hours… but schedules were often changed after your shift, then you get ‘counseled’ for being late for a shift you weren’t scheduled for when you last left.

    • smrnda

      The ‘fair to everybody’ there seems more like ‘equally shitty to everybody.’

      I never get the rotating shifts myself and I suspect it is just a power-trip on the part of management, and a means of preventing workers from having a decent quality of life.

      Just a note that you don’t get so pissed and shat on if you have a union, but that’s very rare in retail. When in Chicago,I always shop at the union store Jewel, just for that reason.

      • FTP_LTR

        “The ‘fair to everybody’ there seems more like ‘equally shitty to everybody.’”

        Sadly, sometimes “equally shitty” is the most achievable version of fair, given all the constraints – and as long as it’s equally shitty, and not ‘arbitrarily’ shitty.

        Nobody is getting a better deal than anyone else – which is fair. Not nice, but fair.

        The scenario described – the mystery rotating shift – seems arbitrarily shitty.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        and a means of preventing workers from having a decent quality of life.

        Yep, it’s exactly this, and it is not inadvertent. Wal-Mart unofficially teaches management to give workers increasingly shitty schedules on purpose in order to ruin their quality of life so they’ll quit and someone new can be hired at a lower pay rate.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Uh huh. That’s it exactly. It’s not at all because things still have to be done during off-hours, computer systems maintained at night, bed-ridden patients taken care of, nuclear reactors kept from melting down. Let’s just find one person to always be on-call, yup that’s much better than shifting that responsibility among a number of people.

        • Pseudonym

          According to the report, she was willing to take more graveyard shifts to keep one day off. It doesn’t sound that unreasonable to me, unless that’s the same day that everyone wants off.

  • ThyGoddess

    Well let’s be honest here… If they gave in and excused her from weekend rotation they would be discriminating against everyone else. If they did give her sunday off all the time that would mean that other employees would have less sundays off.

    It’s called being fair. But I guess she wants freebies cuz she believes in the sky faerie.

    • primenumbers

      And if the other workers then claim they’re Christian too, perhaps there’s going to be nobody to work the sunday shift and put the business out of business?

      Christians have imposed no Sunday working on others for long enough, so now it’s time for them to see what it’s like when you go around “imposing” on people.

  • smrnda

    On one hand, I tend to feel that employers piss and shit all over workers in terms of time off and such, so I have some degree of sympathy.

    At the same time, I feel it’s somehow wrong to grant someone special favors based on religion and not other reasons. Let’s say one person wants Sunday off because they are an Xtian – does someone get to ask for a day off when their favorite football club plays? An evening off for a local open-mic night? When you get conflicts, whose beliefs and preferences take priority? Should politically minded workers get days off to go protest? Why would religious worship be a more valid excuse to take a day off work than political protest?

    I guess my main problem is privileging a *religious* reason to have a day off, as opposed to wanting to see your kids play baseball or something. If I had a personal ethical objection to something that was simply my opinion, I doubt I’d get much consideration, but once it’s a religious tenet I’d accept mindlessly it counts?

    • FTP_LTR

      It’d be a different matter if it were a formal condition of her employment rather than a generally accommodating attitude from the employer (and her colleagues, of course – the arrangement for informal shift swaps ran for a long time before someone made an issue of it, reading the article).

      If her employment contract said “no Sundays” or, “no Tuesdays” (reason irrelevant) and both she and the employer had agreed to it, she’d appear to have a real case (IANAL) to be pissed off.

      In all the examples above – open-mic night, football clubs, etc – if the employer agrees to them as terms of the employment, so be it. If it’s an informal arrangement, and sometimes the employer says no, or changes their mind completely, then one simply has to suck it up.

      • Pseudonym

        It’s a standard rule in common law that an agreement is an agreement, no matter how informal it is. Moreover, the party with the greater power typically has less leeway to break it.

        • David Kopp

          To some extent. You can’t just take a verbal agreement and extend it infinitely as long as it suits you, even if there is no end point discussed. Situations change, and a verbal agreement is worth MUCH less in court than a written one.

          • Pseudonym

            Very true.

    • AxeGrrl

      At the same time, I feel it’s somehow wrong to grant someone special favors based on religion and not other reasons. Let’s say one person wants Sunday off because they are an Xtian – does someone get to ask for a day off when their favorite football club plays? An evening off for a local open-mic night? When you get conflicts, whose beliefs and preferences take priority?

      This.

      It’s reprehensible that ‘religious reasons’ are automatically given priority/more weight than any other personal reasons (when it comes to being exempted from something/given accommodation for something).

      If something a religious person values greatly is deemed important enough to grant them a certain accommodation, then whatever a NON-religious person values greatly should be treated with the same respect/deference. You can’t have it both ways.

  • Alex

    Unfortunately, by giving one person an advantage of lot working a particular day you disadvantage other workers. Sounds like that was fine for a while but could no longer be accommodated. In modern society we need to treat people equally and many people need to work all types of shifts.
    She should either have an agreement with other employees, which is up to them, or find another job.
    You cant have health care, police, military etc etc just take days off disadvantaging others. If she does any form of house work or other work, and doesn’t spend the whole day worshipping her make believe friend (God), it would all be hypocritical anyway.

  • islandbrewer

    My religion, which is a totally legitimate religion, requires that I don’t do any work when my Lord speaks to my heart at random times and tells me to take a nap.

    Totally true. Happens a lot.

    • Carla

      Ah yes, the great Lord Narcolepsy. Love that guy.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    From the article:

    She argued that she doesn’t just go to church on Sundays, but spends the whole day caring for vulnerable people in her community as part of her
    church’s ministerial team.

    Since she can “care for vulnerable people” any day of the week, what this actually means is that she spends the day preaching at people who need material help and counseling.

  • Lagerbaer

    So she works in patient care? Didn’t Jesus have to say something to the Pharisees when they complained that he healed someone on the Sabbath?

  • Robster

    In this country, you get “penalty rates” for working Saturday or Sunday. That is time and a half on Saturdays and double time on Sundays. Some awards have triple time on Sundays! Pick me I say…

  • MD

    I was working in a dish room when I went through my Jewish phase. I spoke to my boss about not working Friday night or Saturday daytime shifts. If he had said I had to work, I would have had to choose between “breaking the sabbath” and quitting. My problem, not the cafeteria’s.
    Dude, an evangelical Christian btw, was very nice about it. Still, if someone skipped out on their Saturday morning shift, I got called in and went to work. It happens. YWH was never too bothered about it.

  • JenniferT

    If you have a reasonable legal case, then you don’t get Andrea Williams and the Christian Legal Centre to represent you. They’re trolls who specialize in frivolous claims which quite rightly get laughed out of court every time.

  • JWH

    I don’t know. She might have a case. I don’t know the relevant English law.

  • eric

    This case is taking place in the UK, not the US. Different rules apply, although hopefully with the same secular result.
    The link to the original news story quotes her as defending herself thus: “”I thought that this country was a Christian country.” IOW, yes in fact she was explicitly expecting exceptional treatment for her particular religion.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Ouch. If defense used that quote, they wouldn’t need to say anything else at all.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    The case law is against her. Jews sued to be allowed to refuse to work on Yom Kippur and lost decades ago. They lost.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    I am an “occasional vowelaterian.” My religion forbids me to work on days ending in ‘Y.’

  • Dan Dorfman

    Ha.
    I think christians will be bewildered to find that support for these initiatives will fail to pick up as much steam as the others. Know why? Anti-choice, anti-gay, and anti-healthcare movements are pushed primarily by big business money. Religious exemptions from providing contraception, healthcare, or treating a person decently? People like the koch brothers couldn’t be behind that enough. Giving people time off? That hurts the bottom line of the big business special interests, which is why this will fizzle.

  • http://wonderwheels.blogspot.com/ Gregory Wonderwheel

    What makes the adjective “devout” apply? She’s not just a “Christian employee.” In other words, she may be “devout” but not just as a “Christian” because many devout Christians work on Sunday and go to Church either before or after work. If she is being called “devout” the adjective should be attached to the specific minority sect of Christianity that she belongs to that says its followers should not work on Sundays.

  • pennyhammack

    I used to work with a LDS (Mormon) man. He said that if the church told you to do something you had to do it in spite of inconveniencing others. One Saturday night I found myself, alone, at midnight, doing work he was supposed to do. My point is, if any religious or secular belief is that demanding, then find a job that will accommodate your needs and let someone else have the job that you are neglecting.

  • Mark D Welch

    I am a sun worshipper, so now I can have every sunny day off. Hurray !!


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