A Texas federal judge recently denied to certify a suit seeking punitive damages from General Motors for allegedly refusing to allow employees to take unpaid time off for religious reasons.

As previously reported, on March 4 plaintiffs James Robinson III and Chris Scruggs, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, filed suit against GM in the U.S. District Court for Northern Texas, Fort Worth Division.

Two months later, GM filed a motion to dismiss on May 5, arguing that the purported class members are not clearly ascertainable and that the plaintiffs have failed to identify valid common questions of law or fact sufficient to maintain a class.

Court records show that on Oct. 21 U.S. District Judge Terry Means denied the plaintiffs’ motion to certify and granted GM’s motion to dismiss.

However, the judge granted the plaintiffs’ request for leave to amend in the event of dismissal.

Judge Means agreed with the GM, finding that the potential class is not ascertainable.

“Here, the Court has no way to ascertain the class under Plaintiffs’ definition since the requested class includes any GM employee who might request unpaid religious leave in the future,” the order states.

“And, as GM points out, determining individual class members would require the Court to wade through thousands of leave requests and evaluate each individual’s circumstance … to determine whether a GM employee even qualifies as a member of Plaintiffs’ class.

“Such a class is not adequately defined or ascertainable. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ motion to certify should be denied. For the same reason, GM’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ class-action complaint is granted.”

Case background

According to the complaint, Robinson began working for GM in 2000 and has throughout the years received high praises and raises for his job performance.

In 2008, Robinson began requesting accommodation for his religious beliefs, which included observing the Sabbath on Saturdays and other religious days.

At first, GM permitted Robinson to take off from work on “holy days” without pay and without having to dip into his vacation leave. However, in 2013, his requests were restricted to only taking Saturdays off, the suit states.

Scruggs, a Christian who “subscribes to many Jewish beliefs,” was also previously allowed to take time off without pay for religious observances until GM removed his accommodations in 2013.

“General Motors violated and continues to violate Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act) by denying a reasonable religious accommodation to Mr. Robinson, Mr. Scruggs, and similarly situated employees,” the suit states.

“Specifically, on certain holy days, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Scruggs, and similarly situated employees believe that they cannot perform work, and cannot receive compensation.”

Both Scruggs and Robinson allege they’ve experienced stress, humiliation, frustration, sadness, and embarrassment, and that GM’s “reckless disregard” for their rights have made them feel inferior and different because of their beliefs.

They alleged GM acted with malice, entitling the class to punitive damages.

The plaintiffs also sought an injunction, compensatory damages for mental anguish and attorney’s fees.

The Law Office of Rob Wiley in Dallas represents them.

GM is represented by John Brown, attorney for the Dallas law firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.

Case No. 4:15-cv-00158-Y

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