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Farah v. A-1 Careers and Centrinex, LLC

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

November 20, 2013

ABDIFATAH FARAH, Plaintiff,
v.
A-1 CAREERS and CENTRINEX, LLC, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

SAM A. CROW, Senior District Judge.

This case of religious discrimination comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The primary dispute is whether, during Plaintiff's less than one month employment, Defendants reasonably accommodated Plaintiff's Islamic religious practice of praying at noon or discriminated against him for that practice.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

"[S]ummary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Morris v. City of Colo. Springs, 666 F.3d 654, 660 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). In assessing a motion for summary judgment, "[w]e view the facts, and all reasonable inferences those facts support, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Simmons v. Sykes Enters., Inc., 647 F.3d 943, 947 (10th Cir. 2011).

The Court must examine the record to determine whether any genuine issue of material fact is in dispute. If the record shows none, the Court determines the correct application of the substantive law, and in so doing examines the factual record and reasonable inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 731 F.3d 1106 (10th Cir. Oct. 1, 2013).

II. Undisputed Facts

A-1 Careers, a temporary staffing agency, hired Plaintiff on June 8, 2010 and placed him at Centrinex, [1] where he worked through July 2, 2010. Plaintiff was the only Muslim employee. Plaintiff worked at Centrinex's principal place of business in Overland Park, Kansas. Centrinex employees had two fifteen-minute breaks plus one hour for lunch each day and were permitted to use the restroom anytime they needed to.

Plaintiff's Religious Practices

Plaintiff practices the religion of Islam and has a sincerely-held religious belief that he is required to perform prayer rituals five times a day: in the morning, around noon, in late afternoon, at dusk, and at night. During his employment with Defendants, plaintiff conducted all prayers but the noon prayer at his home, approximately 20-25 minutes from the Centrinex offices, or at some place other than work. Muslims are prohibited from performing their prayers in filthy or unsanitary conditions, or where they would inhibit people from coming and going, or where they would bother other people or endanger the person praying. Prayers are to be performed peacefully as a humble and private experience.

The only prayer that Plaintiff routinely conducted during work hours was the prayer done around the noon hour, its exact time varying depending on the position of the sun. This prayer averages between seven and ten minutes. During his prayers, Plaintiff used a prayer mat that was approximately 4 feet by 2 feet. He said his prayers silently while at various times standing, sitting, kneeling, or laying prostrate on his mat.

On most Fridays, Plaintiff combined his one-hour lunch break with his 15-minute afternoon break so he could drive to a mosque approximately 30 minutes away, attend at least part of a 10 to 30 minute worship and prayer service, and return to work. Plaintiff would ask the lady who sat next to him and a "fit lady" who was in the office for permission to do so on Fridays, and it was never denied. But the record does not reveal who at Centrinex granted Plaintiff permission to do so or who was aware that he did so.

Centrinex's Office

Centrinex leased part of a six-story building whose main floor had a common lobby serving all tenants and their visitors. When Plaintiff first started working there, he asked a coworker who supervised his work whether there was some place to pray, and she told him he could use the lobby. Thereafter, without asking any of Defendant's managers for permission, Plaintiff conducted his noon prayers in the lobby, which was all glass. During the time Plaintiff prayed in the lobby, several other people went through the lobby to the doors or elevators, and could see Plaintiff praying there. Plaintiff did not consider his prayers to be disruptive but did not care if they made others uncomfortable.

Initial Complaints About Plaintiff's Prayers

Sometime in mid-to-late June, the property manager of the building in which Centrinex leased office space contacted Centrinex. She told Centrinex's H.R. Director, Cathy Evers, that Plaintiff was praying in the lobby and that other tenants and their visitors had objected to his praying there. Centrinex then contacted A-1 Careers and informed Ms. Caughron that Plaintiff was praying in the lobby of the main entrance to the building and had disrupted other employees and that employees had complained. She asked A-1 to visit with Plaintiff about the matter.

A-1's First Suggested Accommodations

Ms. Caughron of A-1 Careers called Plaintiff on the telephone on June 29, 2010, related complaints to him, and told him Centrinex felt it was disruptive for him to pray as he had been praying. She offered Plaintiff several options at the time: to pray in his car, or outside, or at a mosque.

When Ms. Caughron asked Plaintiff whether he could pray in his car, Plaintiff responded that he could not because his prayer ritual requires him to do lots of movements which one cannot do in a car.

Ms. Caughron asked Plaintiff if he could pray outside. The building in which Centrinex leased space was surrounded by a manicured landscaped area and had many places sheltered from the rain. During Plaintiff's employment at Centrinex the temperature averaged between 75 and 77 degrees, and very few working days had any precipitation. Plaintiff had prayed outside once before but "didn't like it, " and told her he could not pray outside due to sanitary reasons. Plaintiff felt the area outside the building was filthy and unsanitary and he did not want to be out in the elements.

Ms. Caughron then asked if Plaintiff could go to a place of worship to pray. The parties agree that there were a lot of places for prayer off-site, but the closest mosque was about 30 minutes away. Plaintiff responded by saying, "I apologize. Again, if I do that, I'm going to be late and I don't want that to reflect negatively on me." Dk. 36, Exh. 2, p. 98. Plaintiff did not ask her if he could take additional time at lunch and make it up at the end of the day, did not ask her if he could combine his afternoon break with his lunch hour and pray off-site as he did on Fridays, and did not tell her that Centrinex permitted him to be late on Fridays by combining his lunch hour with his afternoon break so he could go to a mosque. Instead, Plaintiff asked Ms. Caughron, "would you take responsibility for me if... I came in late?" Dk. 36, Exh. 2, p. 98. She said no, but told him she would contact the owner of Centrinex and get back to him.

Centrinex's Suggested Accommodations

Soon thereafter, Plaintiff initiated a conversation with Centrinex's H.R. Director Evers about the matter. He told her that A-1 had called him and had said some people might have been offended by his prayers in the lobby. Plaintiff asked her whether there was any space in the building where he could pray. Ms. Evers responded that there was none. Ms. Evers then suggested that Plaintiff conduct his noon prayers outside the office building in the courtyard, in his car, or off-site.

Plaintiff told Ms. Evers he could not conduct his noon prayers in his car because he cannot stand up, which constitutes part of his routine prayer ritual. And Plaintiff told her that praying outside the building or in a local park was not an option because he couldn't be out in the elements. But Plaintiff did not respond to Ms. Evers' suggestion that he conduct his noon prayers off-site.

Plaintiff's Suggested Accommodations

Instead, Plaintiff counteroffered to pray in the H.R. Director's private office. Ms. Evers rejected this idea because she regularly occupied her office, people were coming and going in and out of it all day, and she had confidential files all over her office.

Plaintiff also asked to pray outside Ms. Evers' office in the hallway, but Ms. Evers declined, believing that the only space there was a walkway and that Plaintiff would have impeded the flow of people who needed to use that hallway to move around the area to work. Plaintiff does not think his praying there would have done so.

Plaintiff also asked Ms. Evers about using an office that he thought was not used all the time on the fifth floor, where some Centrinex managers were officed. But Ms. Evers told him none was available. At the time, Centrinex used all of the space it leased in the building, and relocated to larger offices shortly after plaintiff left. Centrinex had no legal ability to give Plaintiff permission to use the building space occupied by other companies or the building's common areas, such as the lobby.

Plaintiff did not ask Ms. Evers whether he could take additional time at lunch to travel to a mosque or other off-site location on days other than Fridays. Plaintiff knew that other employees sometimes ate lunch at their desks, and that Defendants permitted him to travel off-site and take a longer lunch break for prayer services on Fridays. But the record does not reflect that Ms. Evers knew that Plaintiff traveled off-site and take a longer lunch break for prayer services on Fridays. Had Plaintiff requested additional time at lunch to travel to an off-site location for his noon prayers on days other than Fridays, Ms. Evers would have granted that request.

After his conversation with Ms. Evers, Plaintiff consulted the same two persons who he considered to be his work supervisors (the lady who sat next to him and the "fit lady") what to do. They told him "off the record" that if they were he they would continue to pray in the lobby. Plaintiff thereafter conducted his noon prayers in the lobby, as he had before he had been informed of any complaints. Ms. Evers saw Plaintiff praying in the lobby and contacted A-1.

A-1's Second Suggested Accommodations

On July 1st or 2nd, 2010, Managing Director Battaglia of A-1 Careers visited Plaintiff at Centrinex's office about the matter. She asked Plaintiff if he could pray in his car or outside or elsewhere. Plaintiff gave Ms. Barraglia the same responses he had given to Ms. Evers. Plaintiff said he had asked Ms. Evers for a place to pray and was told there was nowhere he could pray inside the building, and asked Ms. Battaglia if she could find him a place to pray.

The Warning Letter

Ms. Battaglia told Plaintiff she had a warning letter for him to sign, and presented a written warning which stated:

This letter is a verbal (sic) clarification on conversation you had with Lani Caughron on June 29th. It is the company policy of A-1 Careers that NO public demonstration or activity can occur on clients (sic) property. Personal convictions are respected and honored, however it (sic) must ...

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