Stanford legal students at the Religious Liberties Clinic are helping out Rick Pink, a Seventh-day Adventist who says he was wrongfully terminated because he wouldn't work on his Sabbath. Stephanie Chuang reports.
The only day he couldn’t work for his job was Saturday. The reason? Rick Pink of Sunnyvale is a Seventh-day Adventist.
“I don’t work on Saturdays," Pink said. "It’s my Sabbath.”
Pink was in need of a very specific kind of legal help. But legal help with the area of religious liberty isn’t easy to find.
But he was in luck – the only religious liberty legal clinic in the country is based in the Bay Area , one of eleven different clinics run under Stanford’s Mills Legal Clinic.
Jim Sonne is the director of the Religious Liberty Clinic, which allows Stanford law students to immerse themselves into taking on clients’ cases as they would in the real world. The first quarter began last fall.
“On the religious liberty side, it’s a new and creative way to teach those skills,” Sonne said. “Also, as our culture diversifies, as government gets more involved in things, and people practice different faiths and work together, live together, there’s an increasing importance for lawyers to know how to navigate those waters.”
After being laid off from his career in Information Technology, Pink took a job working at FedEx Ground in San Jose off of Trimble Road.
But after two years loading boxes in and out of trucks at FedEx Ground, Pink said his boss decided to change his schedule to include working Saturday, his day of Sabbath. To get out of the shift change, Pink said he was told to simply bring in a note from his pastor.
“I got my letter to the pastor the following week. Then all of a sudden, a week or two later, my supervisor’s pressuring me saying, ‘Rick you’re going to have to work on Saturday,’” Pink said. “Then I was informed if I was written up three times that I would be terminated.”
Pink said in just a matter of weeks, FedEx Ground officially terminated him and another co-worker, also a Seventh-day Adventist who refused to work on Saturday. They both decided to sue, going to the Religious Liberty Clinic, with students representing them pro bono.
FedEx Ground told NBC Bay Area it cannot comment on pending litigation but emphasized the company embraces diversity. A company statement in part read, “A number of factors determine employees’ schedules, with the ultimate goal of ensuring our customers’ packages are delivered on time and in good condition.”
“You realize without a lawyer, without somebody that’s going to help you, you’re not going to have a chance with these big corporations,” said Kerrel Murray, a second-year student who helped on Pink’s case.
“That’s where I think you need first rate lawyers, lawyers coming out of places like Stanford, that can handle these thorny question,” Sonne added. “You need lawyers who are sensitive and understand and can tell the stories particularly with religious practices that might seem obscure and strange to the mainstream. They deserve representation.”
The clinic represents people of all and any faiths who believe their ability to practice their religion has been trampled on. Other current cases involve the Muslim group that has been trying to build a mosque in San Martin located in southern Santa Clara County. That mosque there has been rejected so far on the basis that the building would violate local land-use laws.
The students are also helping out-of-state prisoners who feel the officials in their respective prisons have prevented them from fully practicing their faith. That includes one man returning to Judaism who wants to get circumcised, as well as a Native American who engages in sacred pipe rituals but was restricted.
Sonne compared these cases to protection of the First Amendment. “Just like you would free speech case - you wouldn’t necessarily support the message but you’d support the right of the person to speak.”
Every quarter, new students are expected to immerse themselves in the clinic full-time, practicing law instead of just studying it.
James Wigginton is a third-year law student who also took on Pink’s case.
“When you’re in a clinical setting you’re working with real people. It’s live ammunition so to speak. It’s really fulfilling because you’re actually helping real people and you’re accomplishing something. You are making a difference in the world.”
Pink’s case is expected to go to trial within a year. He said he’s feeling confident. Regardless of the outcome, he thanked Sonne, the students, and the clinic for giving him back some faith in his future, helping him to move forward.
“They’re very good and helpful, I feel like I’m in good hands,” Pink said with a smile. “It doesn’t matter what your religious choice is. I don’t want to see other people or anyone go through these types of things.”
“Take a deep breath, say your prayers, and then you move on.”