Abeles v. Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

Becket Role:


Deciding Court:
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Case Summary

Like millions of Jews worldwide, Susan Abeles celebrates the religious festival of Passover, considered one of the most important holidays in Judaism. For 26 years as an employee of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) Susan would take four days off to observe the religious holiday. Each year she would submit the request with ample notice and send multiple email reminders of her upcoming time off. But in 2013, when she returned to work following Passover, her supervisors accused her of following leave protocol improperly. They eventually drove Ms. Abeles to retire early.

Ms. Abeles sued the MWAA for violating her right to observe her religious faith. In a friend-of-the-court brief Becket argued: The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority claims that it is not strictly a government entity and so does not have to follow the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), giving it free rein to avoid all anti-discrimination laws and even terminate Jewish employees without consequence. But Becket and additional amicus the American Jewish Committee argue that MWAA is not above the law. Their brief states, “Can a governmental entity wielding the full force of law, armed with police and eminent domain powers and tasked with the oversight of two of the busiest airports in the country, properly declare itself exempt from the reach of both state and federal anti-discrimination law? …the law says no.”

A Virginia federal district court ruled against Ms. Abeles, and she appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In June 2016 Becket and the American Jewish Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Ms. Abeles, who is represented by Nathan Lewin of Lewin & Lewin. In January 2017, a panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled against Susan Abeles. She appealed that ruling to the entire court, but was denied. In July 2017, she appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In August 2017, Becket and Jews for Religious Liberty filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the high court to take up the case, reverse the Fourth Circuit’s decision and hold MWAA accountable to RFRA. In October 2017, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Case Information

Becket Role:
Case Start Date:
June 23, 2015
Current Court:
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
Practice Area(s):