Religious Accommodations Must Be Granted Absent A Substantial Burden To Employer

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Aug 07, 2023

Gerald Groff is an Evangelical Christian who believes for religious reasons that Sunday should be devoted to worship and rest. In 2012, Groff took a mail delivery job with the U.S. Postal Service. Groff generally did not work on Sundays, but that changed after USPS agreed to begin facilitating Sunday deliveries for Amazon. 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 as well, Groff remained unwilling to work Sundays, and USPS redistributed Sunday deliveries to other USPS staff. Groff received “progressive discipline” for failing to work on Sundays, and he eventually resigned. Groff thereafter sued USPS under Title VII.

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.” Prior Supreme Court rulings, and subsequent lower court rulings, had interpreted this to mean that an accommodation that required an employer to bear more than a de minimis cost was an undue hardship. This test allowed employers to refuse many religious accommodations.

The U.S. Supreme Court took this opportunity to reinterpret Title VII.  The Court held that showing “more than a de minimis cost,” as that phrase is commonly used, does not suffice to establish “undue hardship” under Title VII. Instead, employers must now show that a burden is “substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business.” Such a showing would satisfy the “undue hardship” test and allow an employer to deny a religious accommodation.

The Court stressed that this new standard is very context and fact specific, and requires a careful analysis. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court to determine whether Groff’s claim met the new test.

Groff v. DeJoy, 143 S.Ct. 2279 (2023).

Note: This USSC decision will make it more difficult for employers to reject a religious accommodation as an undue burden. Even though the USPS is a government agency, the Court did not offer any guidance regarding how to conduct this “substantial burden” analysis as to a taxpayer funded entity.

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