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Passover Punishment Case Appealed to US Supreme Court

July 25th 2017

Supreme Court Lady Justice

Lewin & Lewin filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari today in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of Susan Abeles, an Orthodox Jewish woman who was punished by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority (“MWAA”) in 2013 for observing the last two days of Passover. Ms. Abeles followed MWAA procedures and received e-mailed approval from her supervisor to take annual leave to observe the holiday.  Nonetheless, when she returned to work, MWAA designated her absence as “AWOL” and suspended her for five days. 

By disparaging Ms. Abeles’ religious observance in this way, treating her observance of Passover as “AWOL” and penalizing her severely for observing Passover, the MWAA created a hostile environment and left Ms. Abeles little choice other than to take early retirement. In the trial and appeals courts, the MWAA claimed to be exempt from both federal and state laws protecting religious freedom. The Virginia District Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her claims before trial and granted summary judgment to the MWAA. Ms. Abeles’ Fourth Circuit appeal was supported by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the American Jewish Committee, and the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs.

Nathan Lewin, Ms. Abeles’ lawyer, who has argued 28 cases in the Supreme Court and is on the adjunct faculty of Columbia Law School, said, “This is the most extreme case of refusal to permit an employee to observe his or her religion that I have ever seen. I hope the Supreme Court will not eradicate the protection given to religious observance in the workplace by allowing this plainly erroneous decision to stand.”

See Ms. Abeles’ statement published in The Hill.


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