Supreme Court to Review Religious Discrimination Standard in Title VII Case

On Friday, January 13, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review in Groff v. DeJoy, a lawsuit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The case will likely be argued in April, with a decision to arrive in the summer.

Petitioner Gerald Groff is a former Rural Carrier Associate for the United States Postal Service. In his noncareer position, Groff provided coverage for absent career postal workers. In 2013, USPS entered into a contract with Amazon to deliver packages, including on Sundays. Groff is a Christian “who observes a Sunday Sabbath, believing that day is meant for worship and rest.” Initially, Groff was exempted from Sunday work at the Quarryville, Pennsylvania post office so long as he picked up other shifts throughout the week. In 2016, however, the USPS and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association entered a Memorandum of Understanding “that established the process for scheduling employees for Sunday and holiday Amazon delivery.” After the Memorandum of Understanding went into effect, the Postmaster “informed Groff that he would have to deliver packages on Sundays when he was scheduled or find another job.”

Groff transferred to the Holtwood, Pennsylvania post office in order to avoid conflict between work and faith. In 2017, however, Holtwood began delivering on Sundays. At that time, Groff informed the Holtwood Postmaster that “he would not report to work on his scheduled Sundays due to his religious beliefs, . . . but that he was wililng to work extra shifts to avoid working Sundays.” An ad hoc approach was devised whereby the Postmaster would seek volunteers to cover Groff’s scheduled Sunday shifts, but this approach failed to consistently accommodate Groff for two years. Other workers filled in for Groff and thus worked more shifts. On three occasions, the Holtwood Postmaster delivered mail on Sundays to cover for a covering Rural Carrier Associate who unexpectedly became unavailable. Groff was disciplined over time when he did not work on scheduled Sundays, and he eventually faced termination. He resigned in January 2019 after submitting EEOC complaints.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that USPS would suffer an undue hardship if it accommodated Groff’s request to not work on Sundays. The Third Circuit ruled that such an accommodation would affect the workplace since Groff’s coworkers would be required to cover his shifts or deliver more mail. Thus, the Third Circuit found that USPS did not violate Title VII by refusing to grant Groff’s accommodation.

The Supreme Court case presents two questions: (1) “Whether this Court should disapprove the more-than-de-minimis-cost test for refusing Title VII religious accommodations stated in Trans World Airlines, Inc v. Hardison” and (2) “Whether an employer may demonstrate ‘undue hardship’ on the conduct of the employer’s business’ under Title VII merely by showing that the requested accommodation burdens the employee’s co-workers rather than the business itself.” In Patterson v. Walgreen Co., a Supreme Court case decided in 2020, Supreme Court Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch expressed the need to revisit the ruling in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison.

Additional Reading

Supreme Court considers Title VII accommodation for Christian postal worker who wouldn’t work on Sundays, ABA Journal (January 17, 2023)

U.S. Supreme Court Docket in Groff v. DeJoy

Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in Groff v. DeJoy

Third Circuit Opinion in Groff v. DeJoy (Case No. 21-1900 (3d Cir. 2022))

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