US Woman, punished for observing Passover, sues ex- employer

“It takes some chutzpah for the government to punish a Jewish woman for celebrating Passover,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket. “That didn’t work out so well for Pharaoh.”

Susan Abeles worked for the MWAA for 26 years and each year was given approved time off to observe Passover in accordance with her Orthodox Jewish beliefs. In 2013, Ms. Abeles followed the same procedure, giving ample notice and several reminders about her upcoming time off. However, when she returned to work, her superiors accused her of failing to follow proper protocol for obtaining leave. Eventually they forced her into early retirement.

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MWAA claims that even though it was specifically created by Congress and exercises powers Congress gave it, MWAA has nothing to do with the federal government. At the same time MWAA says it is not subject to state laws either. That would lead to the absurd and frightening result that MWAA is a law until itself.

Unsurprisingly, Becket and the American Jewish Committee argue that MWAA is not above the law.

Passover is observed for eight days, and Jewish religious law prohibits work during the first two and last two days. Millions of Orthodox Jews like Ms. Abeles have observed Passover for thousands of years, yet the MWAA’s policy is to simply ignore this important religious holiday.

“This case is just one more example of the rampant antisemitism that Orthodox Jews face every day,” said Rassbach. “In recent years there has been a concerted effort to keep the Orthodox out of certain neighborhoods, out of certain schools, and out of certain jobs. The Fourth Circuit [Court of Appeals] can send a strong message in favor of interreligious understanding by recognizing MWAA’s duty to provide reasonable accommodations to believers.”

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