Sunday, October 5, 2008

Oy, Vey! Jewish Truck Driver Richard Cleaveland Sues Frito-Lay For $100,000 Because He Was Forced To Deliver Christmas Trees In Salt Lake City

West Valley City truck driver Richard Cleaveland is suing Frito-Lay Inc. because he says the company retaliated against him after he requested not to deliver Christmas trees, saying it made him feel uncomfortable because of his Jewish faith. Stories published by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL Channel 5 (165 public comments). Discussion on the Vanguard News Network Forum.

Cleaveland is seeking damages of at least $100,000. Cleaveland says he complained in December 2004 and was denied his religious accommodation request. But, according to the complaint, Cleaveland claims that since making his request, he has been subject to insults, jokes and been forced to observe other Christian traditions. He also claims he's been given worse shifts, been denied jobs he'd gotten in the past and had difficulty securing wages.

Cleaveland's attorney, P. Corper James, pointed to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explain why this case matters. "An employee can make a religious accommodation request and that employee is protected from any retaliatory conduct as a result of the request", said James.

A spokeswoman for Frito-Lay could not immediately be reached for comment. They have 30 days to respond to the complaint.

Commentary: According to the lawyer, the greater issue here is the perceived harassment that Cleaveland supposedly received on the job. And, to stand strictly on ceremony, the Civil Rights Act does bar deliberate and systemic harassment.

But considering this dates back to 2004, why didn't he considering finding a different job? Until recently, Utah employers were literally begging for workers; he could have easily found another job. Most people who find a work environment unsuitable do seek alternatives.

This sounds like a dispute that simply got out of hand. For Cleaveland to refuse to deliver pine trees simply because they would be used for Christmas trees is ridiculous and is an extreme interpretation of Judaism. What if he had been a cop? Would he refuse to respond to a 911 call if the citizen making the call had a Christmas tree displayed at his house? Should Jewish letter carriers be allowed to refuse to deliver Christmas cards? Cleaveland's behavior also sows the seeds of genuine anti-Semitism.

Hopefully, this suit will be dismissed with prejudice. We cannot be expected to accomodate each and every religious deviation. Remember the uproar down in Shelbyville, TN when a plant tried to force non-Muslim workers to observe a Muslim holiday? Or how about at Salt Lake Airport when Muslim workers tried to turn a break room into a prayer room? It's time to re-emphasize the separation of church and work.

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