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Trans World Airlines v. Hardison

432 U.S. 63 (1977)

Facts of the Case:

Hardison was hired by Trans World airlines as a clerk in the Stores Department. The company ran an overhaul business and the department into which Hardison was hired needed to remain open 24 hour per day, 365 days a year. The company's seniority system allowed senior employees to have the first choice in selecting their shifts. Hardison's acceptance of the tenants of the Worldwide Church of God forced him to refrain from work from sunset Friday until sunrise on Saturday. When he switched from one building in the department to another, he was at the bottom of the seniority list and was unable to have a shift that accommodated his observance of the Sabbath. When he refused to work on Saturdays Hardison was fired for insubordination. He claimed that his employers had failed to make reasonable accommodations for his religious beliefs. The Court of Appeals ruled that TWA did not make adequate efforts to accommodate Hardison because it could have (1) allowed him to work a four-day week (2) another person could fill in for Hardison on his Sabbath (3) they could have exempted Hardison from the seniority system and allowed him an earlier selection of shifts.


The Court decided 7-2 that TWA went far enough in attempting to accommodate Hardison's religious beliefs.

Majority Opinion: (Justice White)

The company attempted to accommodate Hardison, but the union was unwilling to exempt him from the seniority system. For TWA to unilaterally breach its agreement with the union would have violated their collective-bargaining agreement. Accommodation does not require TWA to breach an otherwise valid agreement. Because the company runs a round- the-clock operation it has special burdens that make it difficult to accommodate its employees' preferences. To force another employee to work an unwanted weekend shift would have punished them for not observing a Sabbath. This would have constituted unequal treatment. There is no question of discriminatory intent on the part of TWA. "To require TWA to bear more than a de minimus cost in order to give Hardison Saturdays off is an undue hardship."


This decision focused on the effects on other employees of accommodating Hardison's religious beliefs. Abandoning the seniority system and forcing another employee to work on weekends would punish them for not holding religious beliefs that required them to observe the Sabbath.

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