Black Sabbath: Religious discrimination when hiring a new veterinary associate
County Pet Care Clinic started small. Today, 18 veterinarians and 22 technicians worked seven days a week to care for the ever-burgeoning pet care population in a bustling New York suburb.
Dr. Lee Hodge started working as an associate at the clinic 16 years ago, though he currently acts as medical director. Dr. Hodge’s ability to spot applicants with both excellent medical judgement and interactive people-skills was a big part of the clinic’s success. He is a straight-shooter and his coworkers know him to be honest and fair.
Dr. Hodge recently interviewed five veterinarians for three positions at his clinic. He was impressed with their medical credentials and saw that they were willing to be flexible to accommodate the hectic practice workload. He liked them all, so he made a job offer to each of the candidates—with a salary variation for only one.
This veterinarian, Dr. Osborn, had told Hodge that he could work any schedule, including Sunday shifts, but could not work Friday evenings or Saturdays. The position Dr. Osborn was offered had an 8% lower starting salary than his two identically qualified colleagues.
When he realized what happened, Dr. Osborn scheduled a second meeting with Dr. Hodge to discuss this inequity. He told Dr. Hodge that his inability to work on the Sabbath was a result of the principles of his religious beliefs. While he understood that it was an inconvenience, he felt his availability to work on Sundays made up for his Sabbath absence. He went on to mention, diplomatically, that he felt that Dr. Hodge was guilty of religious discrimination because he was effectively penalizing Dr. Osborn for observing his religious beliefs.
Dr. Hodge didn't take offense to Dr. Osborn's accusation, and chose to offer an explanation from another perspective. He noted that veterinary medicine is a unique hybrid: on the one hand, it is the practice of medicine with all the compassion and charity that is associated with the healing arts. On the other hand, it is a business venture that must function efficiently in order to be able to provide medical services.
A veterinarian able to work high-traffic Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, as well as night shifts, was more valuable to the business end of the County Pet Care Clinic. Religious restrictions were never a consideration, Dr. Hodge said. In fact, he made it a point not to inquire about the religious or philosophical beliefs of his staff. It simply was not his business. He reiterated to Dr. Osborn that he was impressed with his skills and would like him to accept the compensation package he was offered and come on board.
Dr. Osborn understood. He said he believed that we live in an increasingly global, diverse world, one where religious convictions and cultural mandates should be explored and incorporated into the fabric of the modern veterinary workplace. By showing no interest and, in effect, disavowing staff diversity and lifestyle mandates, Dr. Osborn thought Dr. Hodge was in fact displaying a passive—not an active—religious and cultural prejudice.
The two agreed to disagree and Dr. Osborn turned down Dr. Hodge's offer of employment.
Do you agree with Dr. Hodge or his veterinary applicant? We’d like to know.
DR. ROSENBERG’S RESPONSE:
I don’t agree with Dr. Hodge. His prime directive seemed to be the bottom line, however, he used tunnel vision to achieve it. Our veterinary workforce is culturally and religiously diverse. Dr. Hodge’s decision will probably be more profitable in the short-term, however, in the long term his resistance to offering equal pay to those with life-choice variations will decrease the talent pool available to his veterinary facility. Ultimately, to increase your bottom line you need a top-of-the-line staff.