The Supreme Court made it easier for employees to seek religious accommodations in a case involving a lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania evangelical Christian mail carrier who asked not to work on Sundays.
The case involved a claim brought by Gerald Groff, a Lancaster County mail carrier, who who objected to being required to work Sundays, citing his religious conviction that Sunday should be a day of rest.
Groups representing Christian denominations and other religious faiths filed briefs backing Groff, including the American Hindu Coalition, the American Sikh Coalition and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In a 9-0 decision, the Court clarified a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of that Act states employers must accommodate workers’ religious needs, unless doing so would result in an “undue hardship” on the employer. In a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court case, justices defined that hardship as anything that would cause more than a minimum inconvenience. This court overturned that prior definition.
Despite the unanimous ruling, it was not a clear victory for Groff, as his case will now return to lower courts for further litigation.
“We think it is enough to say that an employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the ruling issued Thursday.
Alito said that courts must consider “all relevant factors” in each religious rights case, including the particular accommodations requested and the size and operating costs of an employer.
The American Postal Workers Union, which says it has about 200,000 members, filed a brief warning the court that a ruling in favor of Groff that creates a “religious preference” for scheduling work on the weekend would disadvantage other workers who do not share the same religious faith.
“We are grateful that the Justices determined that every employee deserves equal opportunity and fair treatment in the workplace,” said Randall Wenger of the Independence Law Center
The Pennsylvania Family Council tweeted that “This is a landmark victory, not only for Gerald, but for every American.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted, “A huge victory for religious liberty. Commonsense is slowly returning.”
“Americans should not have to choose between their jobs and their faith,” said Darcy Hirsh, senior director of policy and advocacy at Interfaith Alliance in a statement. “Today’s decision to strengthen religious accommodation in the workplace is a win for religious freedom. At the same time, the ruling protects businesses by ensuring that these accommodations do not result in substantial increased costs for employers, or impact coworkers in a manner that affects the conduct of the business.”