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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Estate of Thornton
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Argued the cause for the State of Connecticut)
Facts of the Case 

Donald E. Thornton worked as a supervisor in the Caldor department store chain. A devout Presbyterian, Thornton asked to be excused from working Sundays at the company's store in Torrington, Connecticut. The store required its managers to work one of every four Sundays, although rank-and-file employees were exempt under their union contract from Sunday work. In 1979, the company refused to allow Thornton to take off Sundays but offered him a transfer to another store, an hour away in Massachusetts, that was closed on Sundays. When he turned that down, the company said it would demote him from his manager's job and cut his hourly pay from $6.46 to $3.50. Thornton had worked Sundays for nearly eight months before he became aware the store was violating Connecticut law giving employees an absolute right not to work on their chosen Sabbath. He filed a grievance against Caldor with the state board of mediation. The board ruled in his favor. The state supreme court reversed. Thornton's estate (Thornton died in 1982) petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari.


Does the Connecticut statute violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

Decision: 8 votes for Caldor, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion

Yes. In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, the Court held 8-to-1 that the Connecticut Sabbath observance statute was void, saying its "unyielding weighing in favor of Sabbath observers over all other interests" results in an unconstitutional mingling of church and state. In his opinion, Burger wrote that the Connecticut law "provides Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on their Sabbath." Burger said the state law "thus commands that Sabbath religious concerns automatically control over all secular interests at the workplace; the statute takes no account of the convenience or interests of the employer or those of other employees who do not observe a Sabbath."

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ESTATE OF THORNTON v. CALDOR. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 01 September 2015. <>.
ESTATE OF THORNTON v. CALDOR, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited September 1, 2015).
"ESTATE OF THORNTON v. CALDOR," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 1, 2015,