WASHINGTON, D.C., July 4, 2023—In a rare unanimous decision, the United State Supreme Court ruled 9-0 on June 30, clarifying the extent employers must accommodate the religious views of their employees after abuse and misuse by a previous 1977 ruling; a victory for religious freedom.
In the case of Groff v Dejoy, the Justices ruled unanimously — a very rare occurrence — clarified the law to the extent an employer can legally discriminate against an employees’ religious belief. The case involved Gerald Groff, an Evangelical Christian, who believes for religious reasons that Sunday should be devoted to worship and rest.
Groff took a mail delivery job with the United States Postal Service in 2012. Groff’s position generally did not involve Sunday work, but that changed after USPS agreed to begin facilitating Sunday deliveries for Amazon in 2016. To avoid the requirement to work Sundays on a rotating basis, Groff transferred to a rural USPS station that did not make Sunday deliveries. After Amazon deliveries began at that station in 2017 as well, Groff remained unwilling to work Sundays, and USPS redistributed Groff’s Sunday deliveries to other USPS staff. Groff received “progressive discipline” for failing to work on Sundays, and he eventually resigned in January of 2019.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to accommodate the religious practice of their employees unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” Based on a line in this Court’s decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U. S. 63, 84 (1977), many lower courts, including the Third Circuit below, have interpreted “undue hardship” to mean any effort or cost that is “more than . . . de minimis.”
When discussing this case, Justice Samuel Alito who spoke for the majority wrote, “Little space was devoted to the question of determining when increased costs amount to an ‘undue hardship’ under the statute, but a single, but oft-quoted, sentence in the opinion of the Court, if taken literally, suggested that even a pittance might be too much for an employer to be forced to endure.”
He continued, “Although this line would later be viewed by many lower courts as the authoritative interpretation of the statutory term “undue hardship,” it is doubtful that it was meant to take on that large role.”
Justice Alito stated that the 1977 Hardison case used to justify “undue hardship” for an employer to legally discriminate against an employee’s religious belief “cannot be reduced to that one phrase” and that “a burden is substantial” only when it impacts “the overall context of an employer’s business.”
Effectively, the Justices agree that an “undue hardship” to accommodate an employee must be more than minimal; correcting “the erroneous de minimis interpretation of Hardison” that may have had the effect of court since this decision “to pay insufficient attention to what the actual text of Title VII.”
Groff won his case proving that USPS discriminated against him not willing to work on Sundays because of his religious beliefs.