Judge sends EEOC case vs. Aldi to trial

Saturday, April 05, 2008 By Ann Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The case against Aldi Inc., the German discount shopping chain, filed by a cashier from its Uniontown store and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will go to trial, a federal court judge ruled.

The question before U.S. District Court Judge Nora Barry Fisher was whether Aldi failed to make a reasonable accommodation for Kimberly A. Bloom, 42, of Farmington, Fayette County, when she said she would not work on Sundays because of her religious beliefs.

Ms. Bloom had worked at the store for nearly seven years before it started to open on Sundays and instituted a system by which the Sunday staff was rotated so that cashiers would not have to work every Sunday.

Ms. Bloom explained that her beliefs as a Christian prohibited her from working on Sundays and prohibited her from asking others to work on the Sabbath. The company offered to allow her to come in later so she could attend services, but she said she did not go to church. Instead, on Sundays she read the Bible, watched services on television and spent time with her family. The company argued that since she did not go to church, her desire not to work the Sunday shifts was a personal desire instead of a religious preference.

Despite her explanations that she would not work on Sunday, Ms. Bloom was scheduled to work anyway. She was fired on Feb. 7, 2006, after she failed to work on the second Sunday for which she was scheduled.

She hired a lawyer, Samuel Cordes, who took the matter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which took it to U.S. District Court.

"You have to stand up for your religious beliefs," Ms. Bloom said yesterday.

The attorney for Aldi's, Lynn Kappelman, urged the court to dismiss the case, arguing, in part that the supermarket made reasonable accommodations because there was a policy that she could arrange with her co-workers to switch with her. But Ms. Bloom said her belief was that she should not "support" other people working on the Sabbath, which is why she did not ask her co-workers to cover her shifts.

Tina-Marie Adams, a spokesman for Aldi Inc., said the company generally enjoyed good employee relations with salaries and benefits that are above the industry standards.

"As a matter of policy and practice, Aldi consistently adheres to all employee-related laws and regulations. We are disappointed by the action Kimberly Bloom took because we offered every reasonable accommodation for her situation. We look forward to presenting the facts at trial," Ms. Adams said.

Aldi's request to dismiss the case was denied by the court. The case has not been settled despite two court-ordered mediation sessions.