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Court Rejects Unemployment Pay
for Jehovah's Witness
Pennsylvania judge has denied unemployment benefits to a Jehovah's Witness who quit her job in a jewelry store, when her responsibilities conflicted with her religious beliefs against celebrating birthdays.
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court's ruling reversed a decision by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review to grant benefits to Trista Reichman after she quit working as a part-time salesperson at Calhoun Jewelers in Royersford, Pennsylvania, northeast of Philadelphia.
In addition to birthdays, Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas or most other holidays. The court determined that Reichman's decision to quit after being asked to print messages on promotional birthday cards--although she had been willing to sell and wrap jewelry for birthday presents—did not merit compensation. Neither Calhoun Jewelers nor Reichman could be reached for comment.
According to the court memorandum, during her two years at the store, Reichman had refused to sing or eat cake when co-workers celebrated birthdays, though she did eat other food brought in for the parties. She also typed up a list of employee birthdays, including her own, at her employer's request.
Three years ago, a Jehovah's Witness who had refused to sing "Happy Birthday" to customers at a Texas restaurant, where she worked as a waitress, won a $38,750 settlement. Based on the case, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its guidelines on religious discrimination, advising employers to make "appropriate accommodations" to allow Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid celebrations that conflict with their beliefs.