Clinic Challenges Public Agency’s Refusal to Hire Sabbatarians

Zehava and Christina working
Zehava Robbins (JD ’17) and Christina Neitzey (JD ’17) at work on the CDCR case last fall

Members of the Religious Liberty Clinic have filed a motion for summary judgment in a landmark showdown over the hiring practices of one of California’s largest employers, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The Clinic brought the case on behalf of a Seventh-day Adventist who was refused employment as a prison guard. CDCR claims the Clinic’s client cannot be hired as a guard because of her need to abstain from work on the Sabbath. The Clinic challenges that policy as a violation of its client’s civil rights, and in turn, those of all Sabbath observers.

California law provides express protection to job seekers who observe a Sabbath or other day of rest, excusing an employer from refusing to hire such a person only if it can show it would cause “significant difficulty or expense.” But CDCR rejected the Clinic’s client for a correctional-officer position because, in its view, her inability to work sundown Friday to sundown Saturday as an Adventist made her ineligible for that job. The Clinic’s students filed suit last year, citing the state’s solicitude for Sabbatarians in its own law.

Successive teams of Clinic students have since taken four full-day depositions, and have now moved for summary judgment. As they prepare for oral argument in a Sacramento court later this month, Jared Crum (JD ’18), Nathaniel Hsieh (JD ’18), and Paige Muhlestein (JD ’18) are supported every step of the way by their faculty supervisors and the work of the students that came before. It has been a remarkable professional experience for all involved.