Supreme Court rules in favor of a Christian former courier who petitioned to sit Sunday shifts

By 
 June 30, 2023

Thursday, the Supreme Court concurred with a former Christian mail carrier for the United States Postal Service who sued after being denied accommodations to avoid working on Sunday.

The ruling in Groff v. DeJoy, which was unanimous, makes it simpler for employees to request religious accommodations in the workplace, as The Washington Examiner reported.

"Title VII requires an employer that denies a religious accommodation to show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantially increased costs about the conduct of its particular business," the majority held.

The Suit

The lawsuit between former USPS employee Gerald Groff and his former employers was a test of how far an employer must go to accommodate employees' religious beliefs.

His attorney argued that the Supreme Court should make it easier to file claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on several grounds, including religion, by employers.

The majority ruled on Thursday that employers must "reasonably accommodate" the religions of their employees, rather than merely "assess the reasonableness of a particular possible accommodation or accommodations."

Plaintiff's Case

Attorneys for Groff sought to overturn a precedent established in the 1977 case Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, in which the Supreme Court ruled that an employer is not obligated to accommodate an employee's desire to avoid working on the Sabbath if doing so would necessitate operating with fewer workers or paying higher wages to replace the workers.

The justices stated at the time that an employer should not endure a "de minimis" or trivial burden.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, pointed out in a concurring opinion that Congress has moved slowly on proposals to provide more religious accommodation in the workplace, while the Groff case made its way through lower courts.

"The result of today's Supreme Court opinion in Groff v. DeJoy is to load private, not just public, employers with new practical burdens in the name of accommodating employees' religious belief," Cato Institute senior fellow Walter Olson told the Washington Examiner.

Background

During oral arguments, the Solicitor General of the Justice Department, Elizabeth Prelogar, attempted to elucidate the government's position that the 1977 case could be revised without suggesting that it should be wholly overturned.

Lower courts that have interpreted Hardison to imply "you never have to accommodate" a religious request should be informed that their interpretation "is inconsistent with the current state of the law," according to Prelogar.

"Not every belief or practice can be accommodated, but experience has shown that with some effort and goodwill, most can," Marc Stern, chief legal officer of the American Jewish Committee, told the Washington Examiner on Thursday.

"The court’s insistence that hardship on employers means substantial hardship and not de minimis hardship puts real teeth into the law."

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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