Employment and Training Administration
Washington, D. C. 20210






June 1, 1987




June 30, 1988











for Regional Management




The U.S. Supreme Court's Decision in Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida


  1. Purpose. To advise the State agencies of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hobbie v. Unemployment AppealsCommission of Florida, decided on February 25, 1987.

  2. Background. The appellant, Paula Hobbie, was employed as assistant manager of a retail jewelry store.  In April 1984, Hobbie informed her immediate supervisor that she was to be baptized into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and that, for religious reasons, she would no longer be able to work on her Sabbath, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Hobbie's supervisor agreed to substitute for her whenever she was scheduled to work on a Friday evening or Saturday. Hobbie agreed to work evenings and Sundays.

    In June 1984, the general manager of the jewelry store learned of this arranqpment and advised Hobbie that she could either work her scheduled shifts or resign.  When Hobbie refused to do either, she was discharged.  When Hobbie filed for unemployment benefits, she was disqualified on the basis that she had been discharged for misconduct connected with her work.  This denial of benefits was affirmed by the Florida Unemployment Appeals Commission and the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal.  The U.S. Supreme Court aqrepd to hear the case directly from the Court of Appeal.

    Hobbie is not the first unemployment insurance case in which the Supreme Court has ruled regarding the conflict between work and religious belief.  In Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), the State agency denied benefits to a Sabbatarian who had refused to work on Saturdays.  In Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Securit Div., 450 U.S. 707 (1981), the claimant quit his job following an involuntary transfer to a division which fabricated armaments.  He was then disqualified from receiving benefits on the grounds that he had voluntarily quit.  In both cases the Court ruled that disqualification from benefits violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.

  3. U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Hobbie. The Court ruled that denial of benefits to Hobbie violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.  As it did in the cases cited as precedents, the Court stated that any infringement on religious belief must be subjected to strict scrutiny and could be justified only by proof of a compelling State interest.  However, the Court ruled that the burden imposed upon Hobbie's free exercise rights had not been justified by a compelling State interest.  In reaching its Decision the Court quoted the following passage from its ruling in the Thomas case:

    Where the state conditions receipt of an important benefit upon conduct proscribed by a religious faith, or where it denies such a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his  behavior an to violate his beliefs, a burden upon religion exists.  While the compulsion may be indirect, the infringement upon free exercise is nonetheless substantial.  (Emphasis in original.)
    The Court also specifically rejected two grounds upon which the Appeals Commission attempted to distinguish Hobbie from Sherbert and Thomas. First, the Court rejected the argument that the limited disqualification applied to Hobbie may be distinguished from a total disqualification.  Second, the Court rejected the argument that Hobbie was distinguishable on the basis that the conflict between work and religious belief was caused not by the employer's changes in the conditions of employment, but by the employee's conversion.

    The full text of the Court's decision in Hobbie is attached.

  4. Effect on the Unemployment Insurance Program.  Sherbert, Thomas, and now Hobbie all prohibit the denial of benefits under the circumstances discussed above.  Since the decision in Hobbie is based on the two previous cases, most States will probably not need to change any procedures or rules for determining claimant eligibility.  However, each State should review its unemployment insurance law and procedures to ensure they are consistent with the Hobbie decision.

  5. Action Required. State agencies are to ensure that the principles enunciated in the above opinions of the Supreme Court are followed in administering their unemployment insurance programs.

  6. Inquiries. Direct inquiries to the appropriate Rpqional Office.