Groff v. DeJoy, No. 22-174. Certiorari granted January 12, 2023.
Forty five years ago, the Supreme Court opined that an employer need not accommodate and employee’s religious practices where doing so would involve more than a de minimus cost to the employer, as so doing would meet the “undue hardship standard provided in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; 42 U.S.C. Sections 2000d-2(a)(1),(2). Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977).
The Court will now consider whether the Trans World Airlines v. Hardison standard is met where hardship falls on a claimant’s co-workers rather than the employer and the employer’s business.
The breadth of prohibitions on discrimination because of religion contemplated by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is not inconsiderable, as the statute provides that “all aspects of religious observances and practices, as well as belief…” must be accommodated unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on an employers’ business.
Petitioner began working for the United States Postal Service i(USPS) in 2012, and resigned in 2019. Plaintiff observes a Christian Sabbath on Sundays, which precludes work.
A contractual arrangement for weekend package delivery between the USPS and Amazon.com, Inc. created an increased demand for weekend postal workers.
Groff was informed that he would have to work on Sundays or lose his job. Groff refused but offered to work extra on other days. The employer agreed to elicit volunteers to work Sundays instead of Groff. The arrangement worked imperfectly for two years.
USPS declined to continue to accommodate Groff during non-peak shifts on Sundays, applying progressive discipline when Groff refused to work. During peak periods, Groff’s accommodation created additional work for other employees.
With some disagreement, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that asking the USPS to exempt Groff from Sunday work would create an undue burden on the USPS.
Advocates for Groff argue that the “more than de minimis” TWA v. Hardison standard weakens prohibitions against religious discrimination, effectively nullifying them and placing religious exemptions on a different footing from other other rights protected by Title VII.
The United States Postmaster General opposes restructuring of religious accommodations through this case, arguing that Title VII is silent respecting “undue hardship,” making the TWA v. Hardison decision sound.
The Postmaster General points to financial necessity as the impetus for agreeing to delivery service for Amazon. Other employees were directly burdened when they had to work when Groff did not.
The Postmaster General has submitted that the “undue burden” standard would be met under any circumstances in this case, particularly where acceding to Groff’s demands would violate both the USPS’s agreements with Amazon.com and with the postal workers’ union.
No briefing order has been issued nor has a date for oral argument been set.