State Supreme Court could rule in favor of workers fighting for religious rights

by: David Ham Updated:


A class action lawsuit filed by employees at airline food manufacturer Gate Gourmet could obligate employers in the state to accommodate employees with religious requirements.

Attorney Seth Rosenberg says he's expecting a ruling any day now on the case.

"In a sense, this is a very big deal because it's going to extend an employer’s obligation to accommodate the reasonable sincerely held beliefs of the employees," said Rosenberg.

In 2012, his clients, James Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Asegedew Gefe and Abbas Kosymov filed a lawsuit against their employer, Gate Gourmet. 

The four men said their employer fed them pork, when they thought they were eating turkey. 

Because of they are Hindu, Muslim and Orthodox Christian, they do not eat pork. 

Because of security restrictions at SeaTac Airport, Gate Gourmet employees cannot bring their own lunches. 

"The employer Gate Gourmet is required to serve them a hearty meal ostensibly it should be something they should be able to eat," said Rosenberg. 

Asegedew Gefe is Orthodox Christian and said the food was in a buffet and was not labeled.

He was distraught when a co-worker told him what he thought were turkey meatballs were actually pork meatballs. 

"From that time, mentally, spiritually, I’ve been hurt," said Gefe.

Now he and the other class petitioners in the case want to follow their own respective religious rituals to cleanse themselves.

"I need to go to Jerusalem, Bethlehem to get the holy water. That’s and then we have a cultural treatment. I need to take that. It’s going to take time," said Gefe. 

A King County judge dismissed the class action lawsuit, but Rosenberg took it to the State Supreme Court. 

A judge accepted the arguments and will decide on the case sometime this month. 

"Hopefully the ruling spells out exactly what the employer’s obligation is," said Rosenberg. 

A spokesperson for Gate Gourmet would not comment on the lawsuit but said, "Gate Gourmet takes its legal obligations very seriously, including those that are designed to protect the rights of its employees."