The agency has also agreed to update its religious accommodation policies, making it clear that those protections apply equally to NGA employees and job applicants.
Podell said in a statement that, “it has been a long and difficult ordeal, but I am happy for an outcome which will greatly benefit those who observe and sanctify Saturday as the sabbath.”
An NGA spokesperson deferred to the Justice Department for comment. DOJ didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rieders said in a recent interview that the settlement not only provides financial compensation to his client — he declined to say how much — but also sets a higher standard for religious workplace protections.
“The security business and the military business, generally, in the United States have not been very conducive to Jewish people, specifically Jewish people who are observant … Hopefully this will change that environment substantially,” he added.
Podell’s pre-employment screening included a physical test, a written test and an interview panel.
NGA, as part of the settlement, agreed to ensure interviewing panel members did not know about the case. The agency also agreed to provide Podell with the interview panel’s notes, and any memorialization by the panel on its hiring decision.
“That’s all very important to try to help prevent retaliation,” Rieders said, if NGA doesn’t move forward with Podell’s job application.
Podell in April 2021 applied to four police officer positions within the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency — both at its Springfield, Virginia and St. Louis, Missouri locations.
A few months later, he received an email from NGA, inviting him to complete the first phase of his pre-employment processing on Saturday, July 17.
Podell, citing a religious accommodation, asked for a non-Saturday option to complete the test. According to his lawsuit, an NGA employees told him there were “no alternative testing dates for that phase of the hiring process.”
NGA officials later told Podell that they would consult the agency’s human resources department about alternative testing dates, but reiterated their invitation to take the test on Saturday, July 17.
In September 2021, NGA officials told Podell that the agency was only doing testing for police officer positions on Saturdays.
Podell filed a formal complaint in January 2022 with NGA’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office.
During the EEO process, according to the lawsuit, NGA officials said they were aware of the religious accommodation process for agency employees, but not for job applicants.
NGA officials, according to the lawsuit, also conceded that if they hired Podell, he could be placed on a Monday through Friday shift, and would not be required to work Saturdays.
Rieders said his client chose in September 2022 to file a lawsuit in federal court against NGA and the Defense Department, “because we were told that the process of going through the EEOC could take years before a decision was made.”
The case was initially filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, but was transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia.
Upon hearing the case, according to court records, District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, III expressed concern at NGA’s lack of testing options.
“I don’t understand why the Department of Defense couldn’t have simply done it on Thursdays or Wednesdays for this person,” Ellis said. “I mean, how many Orthodox Jews do you get applying? A tiny number, probably. And so, we’re here for all of this?”
As part of the settlement, NGA also agreed to update its police standard operating procedure, and that it would share the update with NGA Police, the agency’s human resources department and its general counsel.
The policy update states that “both applicants for employment and current employees of NGA are entitled to request accommodations from generally applicable employment-related rules and requirements, so long as the accommodation requested would not result in undue hardship to the conduct of NGA’s business.”
The agency agreed to require employees to attend annual training sessions on the agency’s “obligation to provide religious accommodation.”
The Supreme Court last summer, in the case of Gerald Groff, an Evangelical Christian and former mail carrier who refused to work Sundays, citing his religious beliefs, set a higher bar for employers in and out of government to reject religious accommodations in the workplace.
The court, in Groff v. DeJoy, ruled businesses must grant religious accommodations to workers, unless doing so would result in “substantial increased costs” carrying out the business.
Podell and the Rieders Foundation filed an amicus brief on Groff’s behalf, arguing that the Postal Service “failed to demonstrate that accommodating Groff would cause undue hardship.”
The Supreme Court sent Groff’s case back to the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which will determine whether USPS can demonstrate Groff’s religious accommodation would incur “substantial increased costs,” and would be considered unreasonable under the Supreme Court’s new standard.
While courts have wrestled with whether Groff’s refusal to work Sunday put an undue burden on his coworkers at a small post officer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Rieders said the accommodation his client sought was easier for NGA and DoD to accommodate.
“There are thousands upon thousands of people who could have provided him a reasonable accommodation. There was no attempt made to find Mr. Podell a reasonable accommodation, in spite of the fact that the employer would be the United States of America, the Department of Defense — which would be in a very good position to afford a reasonable accommodation.”