Dewey v. Reynolds Metals Co.

RESPONDENT: Reynolds Metals Co.
LOCATION: Clarence Williams’ House

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 402 US 689 (1971)
ARGUED: Apr 20, 1971 / Apr 21, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for Dewey v. Reynolds Metals Co.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 1971 in Dewey v. Reynolds Metals Co.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 20, 1971 in Dewey v. Reynolds Metals Co.

Warren E. Burger:

-- in number 835, Dewey against Reynolds Metals Company.

Mr. Oosterhouse, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Donald F. Oosterhouse:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case involves an interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as it applies to discharge of an employee because of his religion.

The case also involves the question of election of remedies where an employee proceeds to arbitration under the labor contract and also seeks to assert his rights under the Civil Rights Act including suit in Federal Court.

After 15 years of employment by Reynolds Metals Company, petitioner Robert Dewey was progressively disciplined and discharged for refusing to work on assigned Sundays.

There were three Sundays involved in 1966 August 28, September 4 and September 11.

Dewey’s refusal to work on those Sundays was based on his stipulated religious beliefs which prohibited him from working on Sunday.

He had communicated these beliefs to Reynolds sometime prior to any of the Sundays in question.

Dewey’s stipulated religious beliefs also forbade him from asking another person to work in his place.

And this religious belief also had been communicated to Reynolds prior to any of the Sundays in question.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Does or do I correctly understand that his religious beliefs however do not prevent the company from getting somebody else in his place?

Donald F. Oosterhouse:

This is surely true.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

As long as he is not doing it?

Donald F. Oosterhouse:

That’s correct.

The question boils down to who must ask the other employee to work.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Is that the line of distinction is as to who must ask?

Donald F. Oosterhouse:

This is certainly our position that with this stipulated religious beliefs, the duty falls on Reynolds to ask another employee to work in Mr. Dewey’s place.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

I thought the record showed Mr. Oosterhouse that your client Mr. Dewey had in fact asked others to work in his place?

Donald F. Oosterhouse:

He had prior to this time asked others to work in his place.

The religious conviction against doing that --

Matured later --

Donald F. Oosterhouse:

-- fairly developed and matured later as he was in this situation.

I see.

Warren E. Burger:

Suppose an employer in a particular -- in a small enterprise has all of his employees who share this belief.

What does he do about that and no one will work on Sunday?

Donald F. Oosterhouse:

Well, that obviously presents a difficult situation in terms of the Commission’s guidelines and it might well be in that kind of a situation that undue hardship upon the employer would exist.

There are many possible variations here and I would think if the employer schedules Sunday work as a regular fulltime day, this is reasonably within in his discretion.

Warren E. Burger:

Well, there are many enterprises of course which -- in which the employer has no choice about a public utility, electric power company, and telephone company.

Let’s assume that its situation in which the employer has no choice, he has a franchise which requires him to give 24-hour service, seven days a week at all times.