A Jewish woman is suing the city of Dallas for discrimination, claiming that the city’s sheriff’s office reneged on a job offer after learning that she is shomer Shabbos.
Robert Lee, a Dallas-based employment lawyer who has taken on the case, told Hamodia that county officials failed to meet their legal obligation to search for a way to make the job tenable for the plaintiff.
“They made no effort to reach any type of reasonable accommodation with my client,” he said.
Isabel Balderas was originally offered the position of data management unit manager at the office of the Dallas sheriff in 2013. After accepting the offer, she informed her new employer that she is an observant Jew and, as such, would need to leave the office early on Fridays during winter months in order to arrive home before Shabbos. According to a legal brief submitted last week, Balderas offered to make up any missed time by putting in extra hours on other days or working through lunch breaks.
The filing claims the “defendant’s initial reaction to her request was disbelief and confusion,” and soon the job offer was formally rescinded.
The sheriff’s department did not dispute the basic facts of the suit, but defended its decision in a statement saying that the position requires one to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Intervention by the data manager may be needed to facilitate release of prisoners wrongfully held in the jail on bad warrants, mistaken identification or other system glitches. If no executive decision can be made on a Friday night or Saturday, a prisoner may be held in jail longer than authorized,” said the department in its response to the suit.
Mr. Lee disputed the county’s claim that 24 hours of unavailability on his client’s part would hinder operations.
“We don’t believe that would be the case,” he said. “Based on our understanding, she would have an assistant and there would be other staff available to deal with any such issues.”
The attorney also said that a claim made by the sheriff’s office in its statement that Balderas “did not mention her need for religious accommodation during her preliminary interviews” was irrelevant to the case.
“That’s how it works, whether it’s an accommodation for religion or a disability, you’re not even allowed to ask or go into these matters during the interview process,” he said.
Dennis Rapps, director of COLPA (National Jewish Commission of Law and Public Affairs), has dealt extensively with legal battles on behalf of shomrei Shabbos in the workplace. He told Hamodia that in most cases in which Orthodox Jews were denied jobs on the basis of requiring 24/7 availability, such as instances involving hospitals and transit, authorities “did not prevail.”
“The whole thing comes down to whether they are able to make an accommodation or not,” he said. “The ‘being on call’ claim is a red herring. I don’t know how their operation works, but what do they do when someone is on vacation or sick and how often do these emergencies come up? To see how tenable their claim is, you have to get answers to a whole slew of such questions.”
The county of Dallas has not yet offered a legal response to the suit.