Supreme Court Takes Major Religion Case: Postal Worker Asks Court to Toss Long-Standing Test for Religious Accommodation

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in a potentially major case on the free exercise of religion.  Groff v. DeJoy involves evangelical Christian postal worker, Gerald Groff, who alleges that the the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) forced him out of his job when he refused to work on Sundays due to his faith. The case could either overturn or reaffirm the earlier ruling in TWA v. Hardison, which stated that employers need not offer religious accommodation if doing so would cause an “undue hardship” to the business.

Groff is an evangelical Christian and Sunday Sabbath observer, who worked for the USPS since 2012. Postal workers must take Sunday shifts due to weekend deliveries — an obligation accepted under their collective-bargaining agreement. The conflict grew in 2013 when USPS signed an agreement with Amazon in 2013 to deliver packages on Sundays and holidays.

Groff was allowed to work around the conflict by taking extra shifts during the week and finding substitutes for his Sunday shifts.  He also arranged to be transferred to another post office without Sunday deliveries, but later that post office also began Sunday deliveries.

The conflicts came to a head by Groff when he could not find substitutes and missed Sunday work days as the workload increased at the post office. He was given repeated disciplinary actions for refusing to work. The USPS was moving to terminate him when he resigned and filed a challenge based on two causes of action for religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: (1) disparate treatment, and (2) failure to accommodate religious beliefs.

The trial court and Third Circuit ruled for the Postal Service under Hardison. The Third Circuit reasoned that accommodating such demands imposed a more than de minimis cost under Hardison and thus was not required under the Constitution.

“Groff’s proposed accommodation of being exempted from Sunday work would cause an undue hardship. Exempting Groff from working on Sundays caused more than a de minimis cost on USPS because it actually imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale at both the Holtwood Post Office and the Lancaster Annex hub. …Because Groff would not work on Sundays, only three individuals remained who could work on Sundays during the peak season. After the one RCA who covered for Groff was injured, only the Holtwood Postmaster and the remaining RCA were available to work the Sunday shift. This placed a great strain on the Holtwood Post Office personnel and even resulted in the Postmaster delivering mail on some Sundays…
At the hub, Groff’s absences also had an impact on operations and morale. The hub supervisor testified that Groff’s absence made timely delivery more difficult, and carriers had to deliver more mail. As at the Holtwood Post Office, Groff’s absence also had a negative impact on morale among the RCAs at the hub and resulted in a Union grievance being filed. According to management, allowing Groff to swap shifts was the only accommodation that would not impact operations and exempting him from the rotation would result in other employees “do[ing] more than their share of burdensome work.” JA218; see also JA468, 492, 599. Thus, Groff’s absences caused, and exempting Groff from Sunday work would continue to cause, an undue hardship.”

In his petition, Groff is now seeking to have the Hardison test rejected by the Court.

“[A] half-century ago, a Title VII amendment mandated that employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ religious practices unless doing so would inflict an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j). But just a handful of years later, this Court gutted those vital protections in dicta utterly divorced from the statutory text, declaring that employers could deny religious accommodations that impose “more than a de minimis cost.” Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 84 (1977). Justice Marshall charged that this standard “ma[de] a mockery” of Title VII, id. at 88 (dissenting op.), and three current Justices have called for reconsidering it post-haste. This case presents that opportunity.”

Either way this case goes (rejecting or reaffirming Hardison), it has the makings of a major religion clause case by a majority that has already handed down sweeping new authority in the last two years, including Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, forcing greater accommodation for religious exercise. The Court could tinker with the de minimus standard as too low and send the case back for consideration under a new, more accommodating standard.

The case adds to a docket already heavily laden with potentially transformative cases in areas ranging from free speech to free exercise to college admissions to copyright law.


31 thoughts on “Supreme Court Takes Major Religion Case: Postal Worker Asks Court to Toss Long-Standing Test for Religious Accommodation”

  1. One can argue that Congress has no business determining what terms and conditions private employers can offer.

    It is most certainly proper for Congress to have the final say in setting the terms and conditions for federal employment.

    1. Congress has the option to run a public enterprise as effectively and efficiently as a private enterprise by allowing appointed directors and managers to execute the mission as industry professionals, not corrupted, dutiful, communist operatives.

      Unions are antithetical, communist, criminal enterprises and Congress is possessed by unions.

      Certainly, most governmental functions should be eliminated and privatized.

  2. “The lunatics have taken charge of the asylum.”

    – Richard Rowland

    Only the owner has the power to “claim and exercise” dominion over private property, the power to fully “take” property notwithstanding.

    No other entity, including Congress, has any power over private property and must have no power over the daily operations of a public organization.

    An appointed director/manager of public property is an agent of the owner, not dissimilar to a private property owner, and is the “effective” owner of public property.

    Employees are not the owner or the “effective” owner of any private property and employees must not be the owner or the “effective” owner of any public property.

    Only the owner of private property has the power to hire, fire, direct and pay employees.

    Only the “effective” owner of public property has the power to hire, fire, direct and pay employees.

    Americans are free to accept or reject employment.

    Americans are free to exercise religious freedom or to refrain from exercising religious freedom as required by an employer.

    Accepting private or public employment means accepting the “claim and exercise” of dominion over the property, including employees, by the owner or “effective” owner.

    1. Unions are pernicious, unconstitutional and active criminal syndicates that deny the right to private property and free enterprise to owners.

  3. As Jim22 said right out of the box, why does the USPS have such an important state interest in delivering mail on Sundays? We survived just fine without Sunday delivery when snail mail was the primary way people communicated in writing. Now I find myself throwing away or shredding 95% of what comes to my house, without even having to read it because it’s so obviously junk mail.

    Speaking of the state interest, I wonder if he could have raised a claim under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993)? That statute was declared unconstitutional as applied to the states, but to my knowledge it hasn’t been invalidated as to the federal government.

  4. Some people above are mistaking Sundays with religious holidays. There is a difference between making someone work on Christmas or Yom Kippur and working every other Sunday. If a business operates on Sundays and you can’t work on Sundays then you cannot work at this business.

    I am a conservative, I strongly support the Court in cases like the Baker case and other FORCED accommodation situations, but you cannot sign up for a job when you cannot work on days that the business is in operation. How is it fair to make the other two employees work every Sunday because you can’t?

    This is not de minimis and yes it creates an undue hardship on the business. I hope the Court’s conservatives don’t buckle to a religious bigotry argument because this is not about religion, it is about being able to operate a business. What’s next, the Muslim or the Jewish guy can’t work a certain line at the meat plant because it involves pork?

    1. What if you start employment when the shop isn’t open on Sundays, then management institutes a new policy where it is now open on Sundays? What if the employer is the federal government? In your view, do these factors play into the analysis?

    2. “Jewish guy can’t work a certain line at the meat plant because it involves pork?”

      After his open-heart surgery that involved placing a porcine (pig) valve in his heart, he asked me if it was Kosher and OK for him to have. I told him not to worry as he was fine as long as he didn’t eat his heart out by worrying so much.

  5. We have weathered our storms over the last two centuries. I am confident that, through jurisprudence-guided refinement, we will survive these sub-surface but unrelenting attempts to unravel the basic values our nation stands upon.

  6. Wasn’t there just a ruling that Muslims can keep their turbans and beards in the US Military? Seems ironic to say the least that a country founded by Christians would deny such an essential accommodation to an evangelical Christian.

  7. Given that student et al. are permitted excused absences for religious holidays, and, depending on the area and demographics, schools may close for certain holidays; and, assuming Mr. Groff is a practicing Christian, where does the union get off violating the 1st Amendment by including such a clause in a contract in the first instance?

    1. The only leverage and weapon of unions is violence, including the threat of violence.

      Unions have no legal justification or defense.

      Unions are pernicious, unconstitutional and active criminal syndicates that deny the right to private property and free enterprise to owners.

      Unions must be decided unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

      Union laws and the Department of Labor are irrefutably antithetical and unconstitutional.

  8. Jonathan: Has anyone seen Donald Trump’s latest posts on Truth Social? Here is a sampling I found of interest:

    “How come the Biden ‘Prosecutor’ is a nice guy, very friendly with Democrats and RINOs alike, close to Christopher Wray, & pretty much
    liked & known by everybody, while my ‘prosecutor’ is a Radical Left Trump HATING lunatic, whose wife & family get a perfect ’10’ for spewing
    Trump HATE, & whose ‘friends’ are the most evil, angry & disgusting Marxists & Communists in & around Government? They are GRILLING
    innocent people in Grand Juries for hours, all to ‘get Trump’. These are sick thugs!”

    And here is one more recent post by the Trumpster:

    “Mar-a-Lago is a walled fortress built with unlimited money…Compare that to a flimsy garage, with NO SECURITY, & papers strewn all over
    the floor…the FBI broke into Mar-a-Lago…the FBI & the Department of Injustice are crooked, corrupt & broken…The Boxes Hoax Case against
    me should be dropped immediately. I have done nothing wrong!…Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, however, is a Trump Hating political thug”.

    Well, you get the flavor of what Trump is thinking from these two posts. Does this sound like a guy who is confident? I think these unhinged posts reveal a man who is desperate. He knows indictments are probably coming and he knows there is nothing he can do about it. If I were one of Trump’s lawyers I would tell him to just shut up. “You are not helping your case!”. But Trump is like a cornered lion. Unfortunately for Trump, few are listening to him. He gets few retweets of his posts these days. If there is a behavioral psychiatrist out there I would like your take on Trump’s latest posts. Does he sound confident or a man who has a guilty mind?

  9. There was an old episode of Seinfeld where Cramer wanted to cancel the mail. I’d like to do that now. One truck brings junk mail to go out in another truck in the recycling bin. Time to get mail electronically and leave packages to UPS, FedEx, Amazon or others and end the poorly run money losing post office. Needs to go the way of the pony express.

  10. Given that people are parachuting into our workforce (wokeforce?) from all over the world, someone has to start looking out for the employer. If SCOTUS grants this person his wish, look at your Apple calendar. Everyone of those off the wall holidays is a day an employer has a short workforce, yet he can’t fire anyone for not being at work due to the threat of being sued.
    Coming to a factory near you: “Now Hiring. Heathens Only”

  11. Jonathan: It looks like the conservative majority on the SC is poised to make more exceptions for religious believers. The mail has already slowed down under Postmaster LaJoy, a hold over from the Trump administration. My mail delivery man is Jewish. Does this mean I may not get deliveries on Saturdays? Of course, the grant of certiorari in this case is welcome news for the religious right. Michael Flynn, when not working to overturn the 2020 election and reinstalling Trump as president, thinks we should return to being a “Christian” nation. Jews and Muslim and non-believers are not included in Flynn’s world view.

    On this Martin Luther King holiday, which you choose to ignore, we should remember his huge impact on civil rights in this country. This is why
    FBI Director Hoover hated King so much. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 King remarked: “I am going to be next”. King knew that some point he would be murdered because of his prominent role in advancing the cause of equality and democracy for Black people. This holiday should be a sober reminder that even today the GOP is working to make it harder for Blacks and Hispanics to vote. Racism is still with us. And some on the right are perfectly prepared to use violence to prevent full equality. So MLK’s work is not over. The struggle for social justice continues.

  12. We all make sacrifices when we work. Being a physician and a Christian was not a conflict for me. It always seemed to me that God would understand that I had to be available on times when the sabbath was in force. The world is also full of other people who are not Christians so I simply felt that it was inappropriate for me to force protection of my sabbath on others and so I did not. Still managed to get to church and make my apologies to god. At Baylor, as a resident, the Christian housestaff covered new years and the Jewish housestaff covered Christmas. Not official just informal. We had very few Muslim housestaff so we had had no requests for Ramadan at that time. We varied through all degrees of passion in religion but this simple solution seemed to work and each individual made amends to their god. Seems to me that this gentleman needs a little more sense of proportion and Christian thought about how his actions affect others. Somehow I think God would continue to understand.

    1. GEB – the Ten Commandments say: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.. (The capitalization of LORD is not my emphasis; Bible translators use it when the Hebrew text refers to God’s actual name, Yahweh.)

      There is certainly room for interpretation on multiple questions, including whether the sabbath day should be considered Saturday or Sunday, what should be considered labor, and when exceptions should be made, such as for life-threatening situations. In your practice as a physician, whether consciously or unconsciously you based your course of conduct on your understanding concerning these questions and other questions relating to the interpretation of the fourth commandment. I say that because you said you’re a Christian and so you are undoubtedly aware of this passage of the Bible. But here you criticize the plaintiff for seeking to live out his interpretation. In doing so, how are you not imposing your interpretation on him?

      1. seeing as how christian worldview rejects the torah you can’t then claim to pick and choose which passages you like. christianity rejects monotheism and rejects G-d by worshipping a false idol. bad argument. he could literally pick another day – that’s all christianity does – cherry pick what it wants and substitutes fiction copied from pagan dieties for the rest

  13. This situation is for me, a Christian, full of conflicts. Is it reasonable to force an employer to redo major operating procedures to accommodate your religious beliefs ? If you took the job Knowing that the Union contract was in conflict with your faith, have you not agreed to waive your accommodation ? Is there not already a situation in which accommodating one groups ‘faith request” (muslim) has forced others (Christians) to endure their prayers broadcast via giant speakers all over Dearborn Mich ? Put these things in writing Before starting the job. Let there be no dispute
    Over this matter. Employers be prepared to accommodate prayer rooms and days off for islamist.

    1. If a student, job applicant or employee says they have a disability and they require an accommodation from their school or employer, the burden is upon that person to provide proof of said disability. This is SOP

      My first thought about this Groff v. DeJoy case was, “Is Groff a Christian?” I would ask for proof. Jesus Christ will ask His followers of the same. Not all who say that they are Christian are in fact disciples of Jesus Christ. Few are. check the rubric below. Likewise with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. As an employer, any person of Faith requesting an accommodation must show proof of their claim just like for disabilities.

      OTOH, if the religious accommodation is determined to be a “hardship” on the USPS, then all accommodations should be as well. I blame George HW Bush for this mess with his Americans with Disabilities Act. Seems like the majority of Americans consider themselves disabled.

      It is likely that this Groff v. DeJoy case is a religious discrimination case given the decades long animus by the irreligious Left towards Christians and only Christians. Then again if Christians had acted like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, there would be hardly any atheists amongst us today. Christians have done a dismal job in evangelizing by their actions.

      33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
      34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
      35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
      36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
      37 Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
      38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
      39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
      40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
      41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
      42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
      43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
      44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’
      45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
      46 And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

      Gospel of Sant Matthew 25:33-46

      1. ooh do twilight next! fan fiction is fan fiction, gospels, twilight, Greek tragedies – all fiction.

    2. “Knowing that the Union contract was in conflict with your faith, have you not agreed to waive your accommodation ? “

      Solvermn, that was a first thought of mine as well, but he held the job, and I believe the union contract came later. One should consider the facts based on the date he was first employed. However, he and the employer are dealing with changing circumstances creating a tough decision where, eventually, I mostly fall on your side.

    3. As Professor Turley notes, the employee began his work for the U.S. Postal Service in 2012. The contract requiring employees to work Sundays was entered into the following year. So there was no conflict arising at the time of his initial employment.

  14. Wasn’t it just a year or so ago that the P.O. was complaining gain about being in the red and was going to cancel Saturday mail delivery? So what does are bankrupt P.O. survice do? Add Sunday. Makes sense.

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