New York Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Settled: Case Raises Curious Ethical and Philosophical Issues

34 year-old Alisa Dolinsky will receive $40,000, pursuant to charges of New York City religious discrimination, according to an article in the Associated Press.

The orthodox Jewish nurse applied to work at Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital on Roosevelt Island in 2007. Initially, the hospital offered her the nursing job, but rescinded their offer when Ms. Dolinksy stipulated that she would not work on the Jewish Sabbath (from Friday evening through Saturday evening). Since the hospital operates around the clock, seven days a week, administrators determined that they couldn’t afford to hire Ms. Dolinsky when other applicants might be able to provide more complete coverage. The New York City Commission on Human Rights brokered the settlement, although the hospital did not admit any wrongdoing, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Cases of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and religious discrimination at work often serve as cannon fodder for employment blogs, pundits, and academics. This case, even in its condensed form, appears pregnant with interesting ethical questions. For instance, how long does a religious Sabbath have to be to constitute a serious inconvenience? If Ms. Dolinsky had been a member of another religion that required her to take off six days a week (and work only one day), common sense would dictate that she would not be an appropriate job applicant for the hospital. Conversely, what if she only had to take off half a day a week? Or a quarter day? Would that constitute a significant enough impediment to her working at the hospital? Where do you draw the line, time-wise?

The story also touches on a deeper discussion about work-life balance. Nurses and doctors are routinely expected to be available around the clock. This expectation is somewhat understandable. Accidents and emergencies don’t wait. If city hospitals lack well-trained available employees, patients could die. But is it really fair to expect employees to be available to work around the clock? How many hours should medical residents be allowed to work? It’s not just an issue of quality – after all, if you push someone to work, say, 110 hours a week, the quality of their work will obviously be negatively affected — it’s also a question of workers’ rights. Is it really just to expect this level of service from medical professionals? And if not, what expectation is fair and just? And how would any such adjustments to current policies impact the efficiency of treatment and the quality of care?

It’s interesting how this short story about Ms. Dolinsky’s religious discrimination suit can raise all these fascinating and fundamental ethical questions.

But if you have been discriminated against at work, you’re probably less concerned with the philosophical big picture and more concerned with questions like: “How can I hold my employer accountable?” “How can I get my job back?” and “What steps should I take to protect my rights?”
For a confidential and completely free first consultation about your situation, connect with the law firm of Joseph & Kirschenbaum at (212) 688-5640 or www.jhllp.com.