New Religious Accommodations in the Workplace

Groff v. DeJoy, No. 22-174, 2023 WL 4239256 (U.S. June 29, 2023)

In this case, Gerald Groff, a Rural Carrier Associate at the United States Postal Service (USPS), refused to work on Sundays due to his Evangelical Christian beliefs. Despite an agreement between USPS and the National Rural Letter Carrier’s Association, which specified the order in which employees would be called to work on Sundays, USPS required Groff and other employees to make deliveries on Sundays and holidays. USPS made alternative arrangements for Groff’s deliveries involving other employees, but he received progressive discipline for missing Sunday shifts. Groff eventually resigned and filed a lawsuit against USPS under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, arguing that USPS could have accommodated his religious practice without undue hardship. The district court granted summary judgment for USPS, and the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed based on a previous Supreme Court case, Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison.

The United Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit’s ruling and disagreed with both parties’ interpretations of the “undue hardship” standard. Instead of overruling Hardison, the Court construed it to mean that undue hardship exists when a burden is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business. The Court emphasized that a “de minimis” cost in the common parlance is insufficient to establish undue hardship under Title VII. When faced with accommodation requests like Groff’s, employers must consider options beyond forcing other employees to work overtime, such as voluntary shift swapping. The Court clarified that lower courts should apply this “clarified” de minimis standard to specific situations.

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