An officer who was fired from his Buena Vista prison job after he refused to work on the Jewish Sabbath will receive $134,000 to settle his lawsuit that claimed the firing violated his religious rights.
The state of Colorado agreed this month to make the payment to David Schutte, who is Jewish, rather than have his lawsuit in U.S. District Court go to trial.
“This settlement protects all Department of Corrections employees from religious discrimination in the future,” Denver attorney Darold Killmer, who represented Schutte, said Tuesday.
The DOC will implement a regulation that establishes the “process for requesting a religious accommodation and will train” its employees on it, according to the nine-page “Settlement Agreement.”
Schutte, who lived until recently in Leadville, was fired in December 2010 from his job as an officer at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex. He was assigned to the prison in 2009 and asked for a work schedule that would allow him to observe the Sabbath between sundown on Fridays and sundown Saturdays.
His superiors denied his request. Both sides contend they suggested ways to accommodate Schutte’s request, but none of the ways was agreeable to both sides. In April 2010 he stopped working on shifts that included the Sabbath.
The DOC denied the lawsuit’s claims that it violated his constitutional rights and that it retaliated against him. The department contended its scheduling of him was reasonable and for legitimate business reasons, including its seniority system.
“The state now realizes it has a legal duty to reasonably accommodate the religious freedom of its employees,” Killmer said. “This case is what taught the lesson.”
The State Personnel Board decided a year ago that the DOC unlawfully discriminated against Schutte because of his religion and ordered that he be reinstated with full back pay. The department appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals. The DOC agreed under the settlement to drop its appeal.
As a term of the settlement, the state will pay Killmer $71,000 for his work representing Schutte.
The department, in a statement to The Mountain Mail, said it “is confident that the terms of the settlement agreement reached in this case are in the best interests of all parties involved.”
The agreement states that both sides agree the settlement “does not constitute evidence of or an admission of any liability, omission or wrongdoing” by the DOC. It was represented by the state attorney general’s staff.
“One of the things that led to the problem is that DOC’s human resources staff didn’t understand that his religious-based request not to work on the Sabbath must be given preferred status,” Killmer said.
He said the $134,000 amount was negotiated and covers all of Schutte’s lost wages and benefits, plus damage for emotional distress.
The agreement states that both sides decided to settle the case, rather than take it to a jury, “to avoid the expense and vagaries of litigation.”
June 20, 2013
Buena Vista (Original Story)
A Leadville man who was fired from his Buena Vista prison job after he refused to work on the Jewish Sabbath is suing prison authorities for allegedly violating his constitutional rights.
The lawsuit of David Schutte, who was fired in 2010, is in its early stages in U.S. District Court in Denver.
The Colorado Department of Corrections, in a court filing last week, denies Schutte’s claims. He was a correctional officer at the DOC’s Buena Vista Correctional Facility.
The State Personnel Board decided a year ago that the DOC unlawfully discriminated against Schutte because of his religion and ordered that he be reinstated to his job with full back pay.
Schutte’s attorney, Darold Killmer, of Denver, said Monday the department is appealing the board’s decision and order to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Both sides agree that Schutte, who is Jewish, wrote in March 2009 on a DOC form at its training academy that he would work “Friday sundown to Saturday sundown if an emergency.”
He was assigned in May 2009 to the prison and asked in 2009 and asked for a schedule that would allow him to observe the Sabbath. His superiors denied his request.
Both sides contend they suggested ways to accommodate Schutte’s requests, but none of the ways was agreeable to both sides.
He stopped working in April 2010 on shifts that included the Sabbath. He was fired in December 2010.
His lawsuit claims, among other things, violation of his right to free exercise of religion and retaliation. He is seeking unspecified monetary damages.
DOC contends Schutte asked at one point to be transferred from a graveyard shift that accommodated his Sabbath, “because he hated” the shift.
The department contends its scheduling of Schutte was reasonable and for legitimate business reasons, including its seniority system. His claims “are frivolous and groundless,” DOC asserts.
In addition to the DOC, the other defendants are John Davis, Steven Green, Rick Thompkins, Jason Lengerich, Greg Smethers and Richard Fisher. They were Schutte’s superiors.