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REYES v. NEW YORK ST. OFFICE OF CHILDREN & FAMILY SERVICES

July 22, 2003

WILLIAM REYES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sidney Stein, District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff William Reyes brings this employment discrimination action against the New York State Office of Children and Family Services ("OCFS") pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Reyes alleges that OCFS discriminated against him because of his religion, his national origin, and in retaliation for having requested that OCFS accommodate his religious practice. Defendant now moves pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons detailed below, defendant's motion is granted and Reyes' complaint is dismissed.

I. Background

A. Parties

Reyes is a Hispanic of Puerto Rican descent whose religion is Presbyterian and who works as a Youth Division Counselor with OCFS. He was originally hired in January 1979. After several transfers, Reyes began working at OCFS's Queens Aftercare Center ("Queens Aftercare") in 1987, where he continued to work as a Youth Division Counselor until September 2001. (Reyes Aff. ¶ 8.)

OCFS is a state agency whose many functions include housing and rehabilitating juveniles who have committed criminal acts and are placed with OCFS by the Family Court of New York State. Some juveniles who complete OCFS's residential program are conditionally released into the community and remain in a program called "aftercare" in which they are supervised by a Youth Division Counselor. (Mann Aff., 1 4.) As a Youth Division Counselor at Queens Aftercare, Reyes was assigned a caseload of such juveniles and was responsible for meeting regularly with them and their families and monitoring their progress.

B. Denial of Reyes's Request for Religious Accommodation

Reyes is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church. His congregation holds worship services on Sundays, but holds ministry activities — such as bible study and community service projects — that Reyes states as an elder he is obligated to participate in on Saturdays. (Reyes Aff. Ex. A; Reyes Dep. 58-59.) In September 1998, as part of his responsibilities to his congregation, Reyes enrolled in the Princeton Theological Seminary's Lay Pastor Program. The program, a three-year course of study that instructs parish elders on how better to serve their churches and communities, held its classes on Saturdays. (Reyes Aff., ¶¶ 10-11.)

In 1998, the New York State Comptroller conducted an audit of OCFS and criticized the number and types of meetings that Youth Division Counselors in the aftercare program were having with juveniles, their families, and school officials. (Mann Aff., ¶ 7.) OCFS determined that the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday schedules of the Youth Division Counselors were insufficient to meet the needs of its clients, and would have to be expanded to include weekend and evening hours. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) As a result of the new policy, all Aftercare staff were now required to work one evening per week and two Saturdays per month, effective December 1998. (Id. ¶ 9, Ex. A.)

Because Reyes's new work requirement conflicted with his participation in the Lay Pastor Program, in December 1998, he asked his supervisor, James Rencher, to be excused from working on Saturdays as a religious accommodation. Rencher denied that request. (Reyes Aff., Ex. D.) Rencher's supervisor, Director of the Bureau of Juvenile Affairs Georgette Furey, testified that she considered Reyes's Saturday commitments "volunteer activities" as opposed to "religious practices" (Furey Dep. 76-77.) Furey also felt that Reyes's absence on Saturdays would prevent the juveniles and families on his caseload from receiving the same services as those assigned to Youth Division Counselors who did work on Saturdays. (Furey Aff., ¶¶ 10-11.)

The record shows that the same week Reyes's request was denied, Furey granted Tommie Reynolds, an African American female OCFS employee, a temporary religious accommodation by excusing her from working Saturdays for the next six months. (Reyes Aff., Ex. E.) At the time Reynolds was the supervisor of the Rochester Aftercare Office and a practicing Seventh Day Adventist whose Sabbath was on Saturday. As a supervisor, Reynolds had no caseload and had been assigned to work only one Saturday per month. (Furey Aff., ¶¶ 8-9.)

Despite being denied his request for a religious accommodation, Reyes completed the Lay Pastor Program in or about May 2001. (Reyes Dep. at 52.) He did work several of his scheduled Saturdays and, when he did not, used his sick leave to attend the program. This resulted in Reyes using more than his allotted sick leave. Consequently, in March 1999 Rencher placed Reyes on what was known as "doctor's certification," which required Reyes to submit a doctor's note for all subsequent sick leave that he took. (Reyes Aff., ¶¶ 24-25, Ex. F.)

On March 16, 1999, Reyes filed a complaint with the EEOC based on the denial of his request for religious accommodation. Reyes claimed that that the failure to grant the accommodation was religious discrimination, that the denial additionally constituted national origin discrimination because accommodations were given to non-Hispanics, and finally that OCFS had retaliated against him for making the accommodation request. (Ferlenger Aff., Ex. A.)

C. OCFS's Post-Complaint Actions

1. Proposed Accommodation

During his participation in the Lay Pastor Program, Reyes continued to make requests for an exemption from the Saturday work requirements. In May 2000, OCFS offered Reyes the opportunity to fill a vacancy for an "intake counselor" in defendant's Pyramid Reception Center in the Bronx, a position that did not require him to work on Saturdays. Pyramid serves as a placement center for juvenile delinquents placed with OCFS. As an intake counselor, Reyes would be responsible for organizing initial matters concerning a youth's placement. (Mann Aff. ΒΆ 3.) Reyes, however, declined the transfer. In his deposition, he explained that the transfer was undesirable because he would be supervised by an ...


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