NEW YORK (Jul. 29)
An award of $40,000 in back pay and damages, called the largest ever granted by a court in a case of job discrimination against a Sabbath observer, was reported today by Howard Zuckerman, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA).
Zuckerman said the award by a federal court in Chicago came after four years of litigation by Herbert Minkus, who was represented by Marvin Rosenblum, a Chicago member of COLPA. The case began when Minkus could not take a November, 1974 civil service examination for a maintenance laborer’s job in the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago because it was scheduled for a Saturday.
When the Sanitary District refused to make accommodations for Minkus to take the examination at another time, he filed suit in Federal District Court in Chicago, changing that the refusal to accommodate his religious requirements violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Federal District Court Judge Frank McGarr dismissed the complaint in 1977.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on June 6, 1979, unanimously reversed the complaint dismissal and sent the case back to McGarr, who, after a re-hearing, found the Sanitary District guilty of job bias and ordered the record back pay and damages award.
ANOTHER PRECEDENT PROVIDED
Zuckerman said McGarr’s ruling also provided another precedent. Zuckerman explained that in Sabbath observer problems generally, the individual is hired for a job and then dismissed for refusing to work on his or her Sabbath. But Minkus could not provide an evaluation of his ability to perform the job he sought or show that a job offer would have been made, had bias not prevented such an offer, because he could not take the examination required for the job.
McGarr, on a re-hearing, ruled that, based on the evidence, there was some chance that Minkus would have passed the examination, would have been hired and would have started work as a maintenance laborer in September, 1975. The job Minkus sought paid about $18,000 a year, with some $3000 annually in fringe benefits, for a total, since September, 1975, of about $130,000.
In deciding the amount of the award McGarr cited the element of uncertainty about whether Minkus could have passed the examination and been hired, as well as the issue of whether Minkus had looked for other work during his period of joblessness. He then made the $40,000 award as an “equitable estimate” of Minkus’ compensable losses.
DECISION WAS A COMPROMISE
Zuckerman said that the decision was in effect a compromise between a finding that Minkus would not have passed the examination and not obtained the laborer’s job and a finding that Minkus would have passed and earned the estimated maximum back pay of $130,000. Describing McGarr’s use of the “equitable estimate” concept as the first time a court has based a back pay and damages award on that concept, Zuckerman said the precedent would “go a long way” toward helping to resolve the problem inherent in such cases for Sabbath observers.
Zuckerman said the Sanitary District could appeal McGarr’s award but said that was unlikely. Zuckerman also said that McGarr is still to rule on whether Minkus is entitled to an opportunity to get the maintenance post and if so, on what basis.