Employer Reasonably Accommodated Beliefs Of Muslim Corrections Officer

Ashfaq Chaudhry is a Sunni Muslim and a correctional officer employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which has at all times been aware of Chaudhry’s religious beliefs.

Sunni Muslims perform five prayers each day: before sunrise; between noon and 2:00 p.m.; an hour before sunset; right after sunset; and between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. The prayers last about five minutes. Chaudhry routinely offers these five prayers at work, taking five minutes to clean himself appropriately, find a quiet place, and offer his prayers.

As a practicing Sunni Muslim, Chaudhry is obligated to observe the month of Ramadan and its corresponding religious practices. The Holy Month of Ramadan consists of daily fasting from dawn until dusk, praying five times a day, and participating in an additional prayer called Taraweeh. The Taraweeh prayer takes place inside a mosque after sunset. Sunni Muslims may be excused from performing his or her Taraweeh prayer only under extreme circumstances. The Taraweeh prayer starts after the last of the five usual prayers and lasts about one hour.

Chaudhry sued CDCR, alleging that it failed to accommodate his religious beliefs by denying his August 10, 2009 request for a shift change to accommodate his religious practices during the month of Ramadan. The California Court of Appeals rejected Chaudhry’s lawsuit, finding that CDCR’s accommodations of Chaudhry’s religious beliefs had been reasonable.

To begin with, the Court found that “the undisputed evidence establishes there was no conflict between Chaudhry’s religious practice and his work schedule. In his deposition, Chaudhry explained that the Taraweeh prayer occurs during Ramadan, takes place at a mosque, starts after the last of the five daily prayers, and lasts about one hour. He also stated that the Taraweeh prayer starts between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., and that his first watch started at midnight. Therefore, if the Taraweeh prayer begins at the latest possible start time, 10:00 p.m., it would be completed by 11:00 p.m. – one hour before Chaudhry’s shift began at midnight.

“Chaudhry does not allege or assert that he could not travel from the mosque to his place of work in that hour. Indeed, Chaudhry admitted that he was able to complete his Ramadan prayers and report to first watch by midnight.

“CDCR has also established that it reasonably accommodated Chaudhry’s requests regarding Ramadan 2009. There were no second watch positions open to reasonably accommodate Chaudhry’s request for a shift change. Captain Hernandez informed Chaudhry in August 2009 that he would ‘welcome any interaction’ with Chaudhry regarding his request to be exempted from mandatory overtime. Later that month, Captain Hernandez responded to Chaudhry’s inquiry about swap privileges by affirming that Chaudhry did have such privileges. Chaudhry was also granted a temporary exemption from mandatory overtime and told he was able to make any shift swaps with other officers he felt were necessary. These actions constitute good faith efforts by CDCR to accommodate Chaudhry’s requests as a matter of law.”

Chaudhry v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 2015 WL 4498890 (Cal. App. 2015).