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Woman appeals being fired for observing Passover

Depiction of Passover

A woman contesting her firing by the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority – for observing the Passover – is taking her complaint to the nation’s highest court.

The Becket Fund, which has pursued the case brought by Susan Abeles with friend-of-the-court briefs, warns of the consequences of allowing her termination to stand.

“Talk about chutzpah,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket.

“The Airports Authority says it was OK to fire Ms. Abeles for observing Passover because it hasn’t said anything openly anti-Semitic. If that becomes the rule, then federal agencies will have a license to terminate all of their religious employees, as long as they are careful to hide their tracks. Even Pharaoh honestly admitted that he was discriminating against Jews.”

The controversy developed because Jewish religious law prohibits work during the first two and the last two days of Passover.

Becket noted that millions of Orthodox Jews like Abeles have observed the holiday for thousands of years.

“Despite following the MWAA’s leave policy for decades, Ms. Abeles was accused of not following protocol and forced into retirement in 2013. She sued the MWAA, which claims it is exempt from both the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Virginia religious freedom laws, giving it free rein to avoid all anti-discrimination laws,” the group said.

“The Airports Authority claiming to be above the law adds insult to injury,” said Rassbach. “The Supreme Court should take this case to ensure that people of all faiths can observe their deeply held beliefs in the federal workplace without facing discrimination or being forced out of their jobs.”

Abeles had been a statistician for 26 years at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs Reagan National and Dulles International.

She observed Passover every year without incident until 2013, when she was punished and forced to retire despite following leave protocol.

WND reported a year ago a lower-court judge found the case “lacked merit.”

But the woman’s defenders question why she was disciplined after 2013, when she followed the same procedure she had used in previous years to let supervisors know of her requirement to be absence for Passover.

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“However, when she returned to work, her superiors accused her of failing to follow proper protocol for obtaining leave,” Becket explained at that time. “Eventually they forced her into early retirement.”

The case was dismissed at the lower court.

But Becket’s brief notes that the agency, even though it was set up by Congress and given authority by Congress, now alleges it has nothing to do with the federal government.

“As the same time, MWAA says it is not subject to state laws either,” Becket explained. “That would lead to the absurd and frightening result that MWAA is a law unto itself. MWAA would not have to follow the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) or Virginia religious freedom laws, giving it free rein to avoid many anti-discrimination laws.”

Abeles said in a statement: “My Jewish faith is an integral part of who I am, and that includes observing Passover. I worked at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for 26 years and provided to various supervisors the same advance notice of all Jewish holidays without incident. It is saddening that despite following the same protocol I had each year, I was put on AWOL and suspended for five days which drove me to retire early for simply practicing my faith.”