Supreme Court Delivers Victory in Postal Worker’s Religious Freedom Case
Washington, D.C. – In an important victory for religious freedom, the Supreme Court has unanimously redefined how employers are to accommodate requests from religiously-observant employees going forward. Pacific Justice Institute’s President Brad Dacus applauds this important decision, saying, “This is not a victory for just one postal worker, but also for the thousands of the many types of employees we represent, who are being discriminated against and not accommodated simply because of their faith”
Oral arguments in Groff v. Dejoy were heard by the Supreme Court this past April, and it quickly became clear that even the court’s liberal justices were sympathetic to the plea voiced by the plaintiff, Gerald Groff. The evangelical Christian had been employed by the United States Postal Service (USPS) since 2012 as a rural carrier associate, a position whose responsibilities included covering for colleagues who had earned time off on weekends. Following the USPS having contracted with Amazon to deliver packages on Sundays, Mr. Groff made clear that he could not work Sunday shifts due to his religious beliefs and his need to observe the Sunday Sabbath. He requested a religious accommodation, and though the postal service initially offered small adjustments, they eventually suggested that he observe the Sabbath on a different day.
Facing a tense work environment, disciplinary action, and deeply-held beliefs, Mr. Groff filed complaints with the Equal Opportunity Commission requesting intervention on behalf of his religious freedoms. He eventually resigned citing his difficulties, and later sued the USPS, charging them with violating federal anti-discrimination laws. He lost at trial and on appeal based on the 1977 Supreme Court decision Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, which had limited employers’ needs to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices. As so many employers have done in the past, USPS relied on this ruling to support its position that his request for accommodation would cause “undue hardship.”
In an appearance before the Supreme Court, Mr. Groff’s attorney argued that the government agency could have done more to accommodate his faith and that the worker should be able to “serve both his employer and his God.” This position is supported by Pacific Justice Institute. For its part, the Biden administration had asked the court for clarification of the standards for accommodating religious observance. The justices’ questions and comments during oral arguments hinted at today’s verdict, noting that the “de minimis” standard for undue hardship that had negatively impacted Mr. Groff was too easily applied by employers.
In establishing that Mr. Groff’s employers — and the lower courts — should have applied a “more-than-de-minimis-cost” standard in its decision, the Supreme Court has effectively ended employers’ imposition of an unreasonable choice for people of faith: keeping their jobs or keeping their covenant. Commenting on the pivotal decision, PJI President Brad Dacus said, “We salute the Supreme Court for providing greater clarity to what is reasonable in accommodating religious beliefs. Without a doubt, this precedent will make a significant positive difference in our ability to help people of faith get the reasonable accommodation that freedom guarantees.”
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