WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday made it easier for employees to seek religious accommodations in a case related to a lawsuit filed by an evangelical Christian mail carrier who asked not to work on Sundays.
The case involved a claim filed by a Pennsylvania man, Gerald Groffwho says the US Postal Service could have granted his request to be spared Sunday shifts based on his religious belief that it is a day of worship and rest.
Your case will now go back to the lower courts for further litigation.
Groff argued that it was too difficult for employees to bring religious claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination on multiple fronts, including religion.
The justices in a unanimous ruling written by Conservative Justice Samuel Alito clarified a 1977 Supreme Court ruling called Trans World Airlines v. hardison. The court then said that employers are not required to make accommodations if they would impose even a minimal burden or, using the court’s preferred Latin term, «de minimis.»
That ruling was based on the language of Title VII, which says that an accommodation can be refused only when there is «undue hardship» on the employer.
The court ruled Thursday that the hardship must be more than minimal.
Going forward, courts «should decide whether a hardship would be material in the context of an employer’s business in the common-sense manner it would use in applying any such test,» Alito wrote.
Groff, a non-career employee, worked as a mail carrier in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area from 2012 to 2019, when he resigned. His job was to fill in when other workers were not available, including weekends and holidays.
Initially, Groff was not required to work on Sundays, but the situation changed starting in 2015 due to the requirement that Amazon packages be delivered on that day. Based on his request to accommodate, his managers arranged for other postal workers to deliver packages on Sundays through July 2018. After that, Groff faced disciplinary action if he didn’t show up for work.
Groff resigned and sued the Postal Service for not honoring his request. A federal judge said the Postal Service had provided a reasonable accommodation and that offering anything more than that would cause undue hardship for his employer and his co-workers. The Philadelphia-based US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed to a ruling in May.
Groups representing Christian denominations and other religions submitted briefs endorsing Groff, including the American Hindu Coalition, the American Sikh Coalition and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Muslim women, who often wear headscarves known as hijabs, have often suffered due to Supreme Court precedent favoring employers, according to the CAIR report. That’s partly because uniform policies don’t take the hijab into account. As a result, Muslim women lose job opportunities, the group said.
The American Postal Workers Union, which says it has about 200,000 members, filed a brief warning the court that a ruling in Groff’s favor that creates a «religious preference» for scheduling work on weekends would disadvantage other workers who They don’t share the same. religious faith.
The court in 2020, when it had a 5-4 conservative majority, refused to hear a similar case involving an employee at a Walgreens call center who, as a Seventh-day Adventist, requested not to work on Saturday, which is the Christian denomination’s day of rest.
However, three of the conservative justices issued a statement at the time they said they were open to the idea of revising the definition of «undue hardship» from the 1977 ruling. Shortly after that case was thrown out, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and President Donald Trump appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, creating a 6-3 conservative majority even more favorable to religious claims.
After Barrett joined the court, the justices in 2021 rejected several cases asking them to review the 1977 ruling, but the court has ruled in favor of religious claims in others, several of them in its last term, which ended in June 2022. Among them, the court ruled in favor of a football coach from public high school who claimed he lost his job after leading prayers on the field after games.