Hebrew v. TDCJ, No. 22-20517 (5th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice fired Plaintiff after he refused to cut his hair and beard in violation of his religious vow. Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies. He then filed a pro se lawsuit against TDCJ and various officers, which alleged claims of religious discrimination and failure to accommodate under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants.
The Fifth Circuit, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Groff v. DeJoy, 143 S. Ct. 2279 (2023), reversed. The court explained that Title VII forbids religious discrimination in employment. The statute defines “religion” broadly to include “all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief.” Further, the court explained that Title VII also requires employers to accommodate the religious observances or practices of applicants and employees. The court held that TDCJ breached both duties. TDCJ (A) failed to accommodate Hebrew’s religious practice and (B) discriminated against him on the basis of his religious practice
The court reasoned that the only issue is whether TDCJ has met its burden to show that granting Hebrew’s requested accommodation—to keep his hair and beard—would place an undue hardship on TDCJ. The court held that (1) TDCJ cannot meet the undue hardship standard and (2) the Department’s counterarguments are unavailing. The court noted that, in this case, TDCJ cannot hide behind its “otherwise-neutral policy.” This policy must “give way” to Plaintiff’s requested accommodation.