Supreme Court rules against Christian mail carrier for refusing to work on Sundays

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday made it easier for employees to seek religious accommodations in a case brought by an evangelical Christian mail carrier that prevented them from working on Sundays.

The case involved a claim brought by a Pennsylvania resident. Gerald GrafHe says the US Postal Service may have granted his request to be free from Sunday shifts, based on his religious belief that it is a day of worship and rest.

“I hope this decision allows others to maintain their faith without living in fear of losing their jobs,” Graf said in a statement Thursday.

His case will now return to the lower courts for further hearings on whether he prevails under the new standard.

In a statement, Postal Service spokeswoman Felicia Ladd said it is “fully consistent with the standards we use when we seek to accommodate the sincere religious beliefs, practices and practices of our employees.”

Therefore, the Postal Service expects to ultimately prevail in this case.

Groff argued that it would be more difficult for employees to bring religious claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination on various fronts, including religion.

The justices clarified in a unanimous decision written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito Trans World Airlines v. A 1977 Supreme Court decision known as Hardison. The Court held that employers are not required to make accommodations if they impose a minimum, or even the court’s preferred Latin term, “de minimis” burden.

That ruling builds on the language of Title VII, which states that an employer can only deny an accommodation when there is “undue hardship.”

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On Thursday, the court ruled that the hardships must be minimal.

In the future, “courts will have to decide whether a hardship is substantial in the context of an employer’s business, using the general method it uses to apply such a test,” Alito wrote.

Groff, a non-professional employee, served as deputy postmaster in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area from 2012 to 2019, when he resigned. His job was to fill in when other workers were unavailable, including on weekends and holidays.

Initially, Groff was not asked to work on Sundays, but the situation changed from 2015, as Amazon packages had to be delivered on that day. Based on her request for accommodation, her managers arranged for other postal workers to deliver packages on Sundays until July 2018. After that, Groff faced disciplinary action if he didn’t go to work.

Groff resigned and sued the Postal Service for failing to accommodate his request. A federal judge said the Postal Service had provided a reasonable accommodation and that providing anything more would cause an undue hardship to the employer and Groff’s co-workers. The Philadelphia-based 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in a ruling in May 2022.

Groups representing Christian denominations and other religious faiths filed briefs supporting Groff, including the American Hindu Alliance, the American Sikh Alliance and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Muslim women, who often wear headscarves known as hijabs, are often victimized because of Supreme Court precedent that favors employers, according to CAIR’s brief. That’s in part because uniform policies don’t take the hijab into account. The organization said that due to this, Muslim women are losing job opportunities.

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The American Postal Workers Union, which has about 200,000 members, filed a court brief warning that the ruling in favor of Groff, which creates a “religious option” to schedule weekend work, would disadvantage other workers who do not share it. Religious belief.

Gerald Groff, a former postal worker, will have his case argued in March in Holdwood, Pa., at the Supreme Court.Caroline Castor/AP File

Americans for Separation of Church and State, which advocates for the separation of religion from government and filed a court brief supporting the employer, expressed relief that the ruling did not go further.

“The court’s ‘clarified’ standard allows employers to continue to consider the burdens that an employee-requested accommodation may place on co-workers,” panel chair Rachel Lazer said in a statement.

When the court had a 5-4 conservative majority in 2020, It refused to hear a similar case An employee who worked at a Walgreens call center as a Seventh-day Adventist asked not to work on Saturday, the Christian Sabbath.

However, three conservative justices, one Report At the time they said they were open to the idea of ​​revisiting the 1977 ruling’s definition of “undue hardship”. Soon after that case was dismissed, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and President Donald Trump appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, creating a 6-3 conservative majority in favor of the religious claims.

After Barrett joined the court, the justices stepped down in 2021 Many cases It asked them to review the 1977 ruling, but the court ruled in favor of other religious claims, many of which ended in June 2022. Among them, the court ruled in favor of a public high school football coach. He said he lost his job after praying on the field after the game.

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Correction (June 29, 2023, 4:20 pm ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the date of the appeals court decision in the case. It is May 2022, not May 2023.

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