Judge orders library to reinstate fired Savannah librarian

From AP:

"A northwest Missouri librarian fired for refusing to work Sundays has won another round in a lawsuit claiming religious discrimination.

"A federal judge in Kansas City, Mo., last week ordered Rolling Hills Consolidated Library to reinstate Connie Rehm, who lost her job at a Savannah branch library in 2003. Federal jurors in May ruled in Rehm's favor and awarded her nearly $54,000 in back pay."

"Rehm had worked at the library for 12 years when it extended its hours after undergoing a renovation. All employees were told they would have to work on Sundays, but Rehm, a Lutheran, said working Sundays conflicted with her religious beliefs. Another worker quit over the Sunday shifts."

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short supply?

If sympathy for the rule was in short supply it might because the Globe quotes mostly from people or are either homeless or work in homeless shelters. There was a homeschooler who was 'outraged' but this quote I'm guessing will be the more 'in supply' outlook:
"It's certainly a rational response to a non-returned book problem," said the city solicitor, David M. Moore

As pointed out in the article, all the library's services remain accessible to everyone. That a homeless person should have to use those services at the library instead of at home, because they don't have a home, also seems rational.

Need more details

If anyone has more details on this please post them.

Re:short supply?

Who the heck wants to drag 40 books around -even in their stolen shopping cart- all day?

Lets just be rational here, if you have no home you have no need to take books home. Is there anyone who is not a victim anymore?

how many Sundays?

I'm with the library on this. I'm guessing she'd have to work maybe one Sunday a month (we start our Sunday hours again in the fall and do it with a skeleton crew). The burden just isn't that heavy and considering library work can sometimes conflict with anybody's personal beliefs, the can't-work-on-Sunday argument is a little hollow.

Eric Liddell would be proud

The only difference I see with this story is that the librarians weren't originally hired with an understanding of working Sundays. Does that matter?In light of yesterday's realization that "There is no such thing as a hate crime," along these lines, does this also mean that there's no such thing as "religious" discrimination?If it's my religion to have tattoos, a mustache, or even wear a turban, can my employer restrict these beliefs without becoming guilty of religious discrimination? Can I make it my religion not to work Monday mornings -- or even interpret the ADA to allow me to bring my dog to the library because he relaxes me?

Homeless Realities

I know homeless people who have lived in their cars. I know some for whom the library is the center of their world. I specifically know of homeless women who sit quietly and read in fast food places. I work to get homeless people housing, but sometimes there is a wait or a resistance. If this lifeline is cut there will be more suffering.

This sounds like someone's idea of a compromise

The library I worked at was a stickler for having to have an address to check out books. The address couldn't be a shelter unless you actually physically received your mail there, but it could be the Y, it could be various other institutions in the community. The big thing was "You have to have some place you can receive mail." A P.O. box would work. Or a relative's house, if we could confirm the address... (and if the relative was okay with this.)

I think the problem that I have with this policy is that it is some sort of crappy compromise between "You need to have an address!" and "Take all the books we allow!"

Do I think homeless people are more apt to steal book than others? No. I've seen plenty of well to do people do it. And for the love of pete, what makes us think, if someone wants to keep a book, they're going to check it out on their card? Lose books? Maybe. I don't know how many times I heard the "I moved and lost the book!" excuse. But stuff happens to everyone.

Even if they had visitor cards, or a special type of courtesy card available for people who are not just homeless, but people on extended vacations (6+ months) in the area, people in transition... That would make more sense. But to randomly say, "All you who have had a card and no confirmed home... You still have the same card, and you can still use it but the rules changed last night... " Then you might as well do library card types according to the wealth of the neighborhood.

I guess my problem is the apparent suddenness of it all. If someone homeless has been a member in good standing, with a card that they've had for years... Its insulting to change the rules now. At least grandfather them in.

Re:Homeless Realities

I have seen some public lockers one can rent in Europe. But you still can't fit 40 books in them.

I don't think homeless people should be prohibited from checking out books (in fact I think most books are stolen/lost/misplaced by those with homes), it is just a matter of practicality? Where will they put them?

I think the mail drop/ voice mail facilities some cities and organizations offer are a great start for people working they way back from homelessness. It gives them an address for mail and a telephone number for job calls, it could also give them an address for a library card application. (although most Pinellas County libraries won't accept it unless it is on your license, or you have some sort of utility bill sent there. I think that is a load of crap personally.)

I think the library is a good place for the homeless to find resources so they can move into the not homeless category. Heck I also think public baths (like in the train stations of Europe) are a good thing. A few bucks can get you an hour of hot water, a towel and a cake of soap. I'd give money to people with a 'will work for shower' sign. Few people want to dirty and smelly, however some homeless people have resigned themselves to a lifetime of homelessness and don't care anyomre. I bet they'd still go for a nice shower.

Of course if you open a public bath in this country it fills with perverts. There was one on Madeira Beach many years ago and they just gave up and closed the place (and sold the land to condo developers). It worked in the 50's and 60's but the perverts started showing up after that. (not that I am equating homelessness with perverts -two different issues)

Re:This sounds like someone's idea of a compromise

Shoe or anybody want to take a shot at what's wrong with this statement?:

"I guess my problem is the apparent suddenness of it all. If someone homeless has been a member in good standing, with a card that they've had for years... Its insulting to change the rules now. At least grandfather them in."

follow-up Re:short supply?

This was discussed on the morning news, they have a section called 'Let It Rip' and of the 4 broadcasters discussing it one thought it was completely unfair, one didn't and the other two were discussing alternatives. It was also on local talkradio and I only caught the last 15 minutes, which is too bad because I guess Michael Dukakis called in. Not much sympathy there except for people who work or volunteer at the shelters.

Interesting note, I don't know if its one of the people on the lawsuit but according to the radio there is a fulltime volunteer at the Worcester Public Library who is homeless. Apparently they'd rather be homeless and volunteer then have a home and make a living.

I don't have a problem with people being homeless or with libraries helping the homeless, I have a problem with homeless people thinking their #1 priority is to file bogus lawsuits instead of doing everything they can to find and maintain a home.

re: Need more details

Yes, we need more details. I was raised as a Lutheran and don't recall any restrictions on working on Sundays. I wonder what synod she belongs to? There might be some very conservative Lutheran churches out there that might restrict working on Sundays.

Re:how many Sundays?

From an HR standpoint I see three possibilities for why the library lost.1) Changing a condition of work might apply if conditions of work include a specified work schedule. That could be a reason but condition of work rarely includes schedule.2) Discrimination against a protected class might apply. Possible but I'm not holding my breath.3) Malice could apply if this was a personal vandetta against the library manager. Most probable, but then again not enough information.If you want to be a director bone up on your HR skill set.

Re:This sounds like someone's idea of a compromise

1) Most homeless people don't have library cards.
2) Most homeless people are nomadic (the word transient had a negative connotation but you understand what I mean).
3) If they have had a card for years the chances of them being homeless are about the same as me being made Pope.
4) Most homeless people don't give a chit, they are not there for the books but for the community resources, internet access to work and housing opportunities, and the welcoming social interaction available in the library. Checking out books is not their top priority. (Man I have learned PC! - they want to read the paper, look for housing or work, or just sit in the A/C -or heat- for a while in a place where they won't get a hard time. All OK things to do at the library)

Re:how many Sundays?

I know that my library system lists the "ability to work evenings and weekends" in their job description for librarians. We, however, are not required to work on Sundays and if you do, you are paid overtime. Since only a handful of libraries are open on Sundays, they take volunteers (and usually enough people volunteer to fill the shifts.)

Now granted this is a job for Administrative Assistant and it was probably posted after this scheduling change went into affect but here is the description stating that applicants need to be able to work evenings and weekends.

Religious Holidays

"I won't be coming in tomorrow. Religious holiday. Uh... Feast of... Maximum Occupancy."

-HS

Re:This sounds like someone's idea of a compromise

And here I was thinking that my response on grandfathering was just a crappy compromise based on another crappy compromise, and that was the problem. I don't particularly like the grandfathering solution. I don't particularly like giving a homeless shelter as an address to get a card to begin with, but WPL has already made that bed...

While those are good points, Greg and mdoneil, and true points in many cases, obviously there are homeless people that have cards, at least in Worcester. So point 1 is moot.

I'm all for you being made pope, mdoneil, I bet you'd even look pretty cute in the pointy hat... but you can't deny that sometimes a death in the family, an accident, or even something as commonplace as a divorce can wreak havoc on people's finances. It's easy to lose a home. Happened to my inlaws when their shop went under. They luckily had some relatives whose couch they could stay on... Literally... and they stayed on that couch for two years till things sort of returned to normal. It does happen. It even happens to good, smart, industrious people. My inlaws were lucky to have a relative they could crash with. Some people aren't that lucky.

I agree that many lawsuits are frivolous, and this perhaps shouldn't be brought to court. However, I have to agree that it's just crappy policy. A wise administrator at my library said (paraphrased), "You can't give the patrons something, then snatch it away. So think wisely before you give." This is what this policy equates to.

Fines, putting freezes on cards that have a lost book credited to them, etc. are one way to cut down on the number of patrons who abuse library resources.

Re:how many Sundays?

"Ability" is a magic word it gives HR the option of requiring the additional hours without having to specify a schedule. I like that it's under "Required Ability". Nothing in the description that would lead me to believe I couldn't specify any schedule I wanted for the staff member.Your director is kinder than I am. I would not pay overtime I'd just adjust the schedule to fit the needs of the library. No FLSA exempt employee would have that option.Thats a starter description nice to start with for phrasing, though it misses my favorite statement "other duties as assigned".

Re:how many Sundays?

Considering that most of our 88 libraries are open 6 days a week (or if they are only open 5, it is usually Tues-Sat) and I think only 7 are open on Sundays, there is some flexibility there.

I think that part-time staff are just scheduled within their allotted hours (no overtime there) but Librarians who have already worked a 40-hour week get paid time and a half.

I'm sure the Union had something to do with it :-)

Worcester Library the full story

Thanks to all for starting this conversation. Let me first identify myself as the individual associated with the community group "Real Solutions" that filed the first public records request of the library to more fully understand the policy. I'd like to share a few points based on comments here, and what I know being connected to the story.

1/ The library's policy is probably best described not as being directed at homeless individuals, but rather as - people living in residential programs. The press has focused on the homeless aspect, and our own stereotypes, as comments here reflect, quickly create pictures of people struggling with alcoholism pushing carts. Worcester's blacklist contains 47 addresses that include the Sts Francis &Therese Catholic Worker, residential programs for youth/adolescents, Daybreak a program for women fleeing domestic violence, the Aurora Project; apartments for formerly homeless individuals, all of Worcester State Hospital, all of AdCare Hospital. That list goes on and on...

2/ For over a year the library has failed to provide ANY data. There has been no explanation why some youth programs have been added to this list and why other youth residential programs are not on the list. In meeting w/ the library it became v. apparent that agencies that were "known" to the library were put on a list. That's the defining line.

We love our library in Woooostahh. The push to have this policy dropped is far from being a knee jerk response or frivelous lawsuit as some have implied. It is an effort to make sure the public library is equally available to everyone and doesn't become part of the growing downtown gentrification. (CitySquare, a $500 million upscale development is being planned across the street from the library.)

A copy of the lawsuit, policy and more detailed stories are available at http://worcester.indymedia.org/

Thanks..... Kevin

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