A&O forced to defend religious holiday policy

Allen & Overy (A&O) has defended its employment policies after a former associate from the New York office sued the firm for race discrimination.

Former associate Norman Schoenfeld claims he was told to work on a religious holiday despite warning his supervising partner well in advance that he would not be able to do so.

An A&O spokesperson said: “In New York we intentionally classify religious holidays as personal days – they’re not limited and can be taken on an as-needed basis. The overall category of personal days provides us with the flexibility to meet the needs of the diverse religious, cultural and personal needs of the people working at A&O.”

Schoenfeld alleges that his employment was subsequently terminated because the firm claimed he was unable to carry out his job adequately.

A&O claims his employment was terminated on performance grounds within his trial period.

The spokesperson added: “He also failed to accurately disclose to A&O the true terms of his previous employment at another law firm.”

Schoenfeld claims he experienced resistance and discrimination from the start of his employment at A&O due to his religious beliefs. He requested time off work to observe the Jewish sabbath each week from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.

The firm operates a harassment at work policy that states: “Sexual, racial, religious, ethnic or other discriminatory harassment of anyone working at A&O is contrary to firm policy and will not be condoned. This firm will endeavour to keep this workplace free of any conduct which creates an intimidating, hostile or abusive work environment. It is everyone’s responsibility to eliminate any harassment or intimidation of which they are aware.”

Its vacation, personal and sick days policy states: “Associates are required to designate personal and sick days as such in their time records and are required to notify the HR department whenever they have missed three or more consecutive days of work due to an illness, additionally attorneys are asked to forward copies of all absence request forms (for planned personal and vacation days, whether approved or denied) to the HR department.”