Orthodox public school teachers in the Monsey area recently
won their fight to overturn a discriminatory policy that had
prevented them from using personal leave days for religious
holidays. The East Ramapo school board is now once again
allowing teachers paid leave for religious reasons.
The school board first circulated a memo last October
stating that all employees were henceforth prohibited from
using leave days for religious holidays. The school board
based their policy on a recent New York State court case,
Port Washington Union Free School District v. Port
Washington Teachers Association. Monsey public school
teacher Mark Berkowitz thought that smacked of anti-
religious discrimination, and so he contacted Agudath Israel
of America concerning the legality of the East Ramapo
Central School District's policy.
Agudath Associate General Counsel Mordechai Biser wrote Mr.
Berkowitz that he was right and the school district was
wrong. The court in the Port Washington case had only ruled
that giving religiously observant teachers more paid days
off than those who were not observant was in violation of
the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, since it
"promoted" religious observance. In East Ramapo, by
contrast, observant teachers had been able to use their
personal leave days for religious holidays while non-
observant teachers could use their leave days for other
Further research by the Agudah attorney showed that the new
East Ramapo policy was even clearly unconstitutional. In a
1986 case, Ansonia Board of Education v. Philbrook, the
Supreme Court of the United States explicitly stated that
refusing to provide paid leave as an accommodation would be
discriminatory "when paid leave is provided for all purposes
except religious ones."
Agudath Israel immediately alerted New York State Attorney
General Eliot Spitzer's office of the East Ramapo policy.
Deputy Attorney General Avi Schick responded promptly by
calling the school board's attorney and urging that the
policy against using leave days for religious reasons be
reversed. The school board -- faced with the legal facts --
subsequently voted to overturn the discriminatory policy.
Mr. Berkowitz has now been granted personal leave for the
yomim tovim that he requested.
"Agudath Israel thanks the Attorney General for his prompt
intervention in this case," said Rabbi Biser. But he
cautioned that there may be other school districts in the
area that are still maintaining a "no paid leave for
religious holidays" policy. "The law is clear -- if
employees can take paid personal leave for any other
purpose, they must be allowed to take paid leave for