The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal from Gerald Groff, an evangelical Christian mail carrier, on his claim of employment discrimination. According to the complaint, the U.S. Postal Service denied Groff’s request to be exempted from working on Sundays due to his religious beliefs, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion. This case could affect employers, forcing them to do more to accommodate their workers’ religious practices.
Gerald Groff, a postal worker at the Holtwood, Pennsylvania Post Office, is a Christian who observes the Sabbath on Sundays, believing the day is set aside for worship and rest. But when the United States Postal Service and the labor union entered a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) or union contract, it overruled a century of Congressionally-mandated Sunday Post Office closures, instituting a policy that required employees to work on Sundays and holidays to deliver Amazon packages.
At first, the USPS asked for volunteers, and they were chosen based on seniority. If there were not enough volunteers, the Postmaster told Groff he had to work on Sundays and violate his religious beliefs or find another job. Groff refused, prompting the Postmaster to email other workers to see if someone could cover his shift. But when volunteers were not always available, and Groff still skipped Sundays, other workers and supervisors grew angry, and the Postal Service disciplined Groff for poor attendance.
The Supreme Court’s 1977 ruling in TWA v. Hardison established that employers need not accommodate employees’ religious beliefs if doing so incurs an undue hardship, defined as a “de minimis cost or expense.” This has traditionally made it very difficult for employees who have requested religious accommodation.
The issue of religious accommodation has been raised recently, with Founders’ First Freedom filing amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on two cases involving Seventh-day Adventists who had requested Saturday-Sabbath accommodation, including Patterson v. Walgreens (2020) and Dalberiste v. GLE Associates (2021). But the Court declined to hear the arguments in both cases despite three justices stating that they thought the “undue hardship” argument should be revisited.
The issues raised in the Petition filed by attorneys for Gerald Groff are: (1) Whether the Court should disapprove the more-than-de-minimis-cost test for refusing religious accommodations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stated in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison; and (2) whether an employer may demonstrate “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business” under Title VII merely by showing that the requested accommodation burdens the employee’s coworkers rather than the business itself.
Mr. Groff is represented by First Liberty Institute. Oral arguments are not yet scheduled but will likely take place this spring.
Case: Groff v. DeJoy – Supreme Court Docket No. 22-174