After an evangelical Christian from Pennsylvania sued the United States Postal Service for failing to accommodate his Sunday sabbath, the Supreme Court ruled on June 29 that employers must accommodate employee religious beliefs, even if it creates some burden on the employers.
Mail Carrier Gerald Groff, an auxiliary mailman for USPS from 2012 to 2019, resigned in January 2019 after his managers required him to work on Sundays.
Groff worked as a substitute mailman, filling in for other employees on holidays and weekends. When the postal service began to deliver Amazon packages on Sundays in 2015, Groff requested not to be assigned to that day. The USPS assigned other people to Sundays until July 2018, when Groff was required to accept Sunday shifts.
Groff sued for the failure to accommodate his religious practices, but a federal judge ruled that any more accommodation would be an undue burden on the employer and coworkers.
The 1977 Supreme Court case Trans World Airlines v. Hardison ruled that employers don’t have to provide accommodation if it would be a “minimal” burden. Hardison interpreted Title VII’s “undue hardship” as anything imposing more than a minor, or “de minimis,” cost.
Commonly needed accommodations include sabbath days off, uniform or grooming exceptions, breaks for prayer, or even having a religious symbol displayed at work.
But this Thursday, Groff v. DeJoy ruled that employers must accommodate their employees’ religious practices. The only exception is when religious accommodations cause “substantial increased costs” for the business. The court ruled that Hardison incorrectly interpreted Title VII.
Title VII prohibits discrimination against employees based on race, sex, nationality, or religion. Under Title VII, employees must accommodate employee religious beliefs up to the point of “undue” hardship.
“Hardison has effectively nullified Title VII’s protection of religious employees and thereby eroded the Nation’s commitment to religious freedom and pluralism,” said the 1977 ruling.
Religious groups that came together to back Groff include the American Sikh Coalition, the American Hindu Coalition, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
This is one of many recent cases regarding religious freedom, including the recent 2022 case Kennedy v. Bremerton. High school football coach Joe Kennedy lost his job after kneeling in prayer at midfield after games were over. The court ruled in favor of Kennedy, and he was later reinstated.
Groff said in a statement that he was honored to be involved in such an influential case. “I hope this decision allows others to be able to maintain their convictions without living in fear of losing their jobs because of what they believe,” he said.
“It’s an honor to have my name on it, but really it’s about glorifying God and giving him what he’s due,” said Groff.