WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court Tuesday refused to take up the case of a Maryland physician who claimed she was subjected to workplace discrimination because she is an Orthodox Jew.
The high court’s action upheld decisions by two lower courts that said disciplinary action against Dr. Rebecca Dachman, a medical officer for the Food and Drug Administration, was justified and in no way violated her civil rights.
Dachman had worked for the FDA in various capacities from 1988 to 1998. During that time, court documents say, she was suspended on several occasions and reassigned more than once for what her bosses said was insubordination and other problems.
Dachman said in her suit that the problems began in 1993 when a reorganization placed her under a group of managers who displayed “animosity toward her religious practices.” That animosity resulted in the disciplinary actions that ultimately ended in her 1998 termination.
She sued in 1999 charging, among other things, that her supervisors — at least two of whom were Jewish — made fun of her New York accent and referred to her as “Mengele,” an allusion to the infamous Nazi doctor.
Her suit charged that her supervisors refused to reschedule meetings around religious holidays.
Dachman also said her supervisors would not accommodate her religious practices, which prohibit her from working on Friday after sundown and on religious holidays. In court documents, Dachman said she needed five hours to prepare for the Sabbath, but her supervisors limited the time she could take off from work to two hours.
While she had previously been allowed to make up the time on Sundays, her suit said, the new supervisors refused her an opportunity to make up for the leave, forcing her to use her annual or unpaid leave.
Dachman declined to comment her appeal to the Supreme Court.
FDA officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision. But in the lower courts, they argued that their disciplinary actions were justified, not driven by religious hostility.
They said Dachman was suspended and eventually reassigned because of disrespectful and disruptive behavior. Her leave was restricted, they said, because of her poor attendance record and inappropriate use of leave.
The U.S. District Court in Baltimore dismissed Dachman’s suit, a decision that was affirmed in May by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a decision written by Circuit Judge Michael Duffy, the appellate court said there was no evidence of discrimination against Dachman, that the disciplinary actions against her were a result of an unsatisfactory work record.
Duffy also found that the FDA had no obligation to accommodate Dachman’s request to leave early on Fridays in preparation of the Sabbath, since it was her personal preference and not a religious requirement.
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