Passover-observant employee case heard in appeals court

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The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., heard oral arguments Dec. 8 for a case concerning an Orthodox Jewish woman who claims her supervisor wrongfully penalized her for observing the Jewish holiday of Passover in 2013.

Susan Abeles, of Silver Spring, filed a lawsuit in May, 2015 in federal district court in Washington against the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, claiming that her former employer of 26 years violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.


The MWAA argued that Abeles failed to follow standard procedure for requesting time off and therefore was “absent without leave,” resulting in a five-day suspension.

The federal district court in Alexandria, to which the case was moved, ruled against Abeles in March of this year.

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The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit, public-interest law firm, which joined the case as a friend of the court in June along with the American Jewish Committee, said MWAA “claims to be exempt from both state and federal anti-discrimination laws.”

An MWAA spokesperson declined to comment on pending litigation.


The lawsuit named the MWAA as well as Abeles’ former supervisors, Valerie O’Hara and Julia Hodge. Abeles is represented by Nathan Lewin of Lewin & Lewin.

Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund, said he expects a decision within the next three to six months.

If the appellate court rules in Abeles’ favor, the case will likely be sent back to the district court.

jkatz[email protected]

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