The case before the court concerned a postman in rural Pennsylvania. The man was told that as part of his job he would have to start delivering Amazon packages on Sundays. He declined, saying his Sundays are for church and family. U.S. Postal Service officials initially tried to get replacements for the man’s shifts, but they weren’t always able to accommodate him. When he didn’t show up, it meant more work for the others. Eventually, the man resigned and sued for religious discrimination.
The case is the latest religious confrontation that the high court has been called upon to arbitrate. In recent years, the court’s 6-3 conservative majority has been particularly sensitive to the concerns of religious plaintiffs. Last year, the court split along ideological lines in the ruling for a public high school football coach who wanted to pray on the field after games.
Other recent religious cases have garnered widespread acclaim among judges, such as upholding a monument in the form of a cross for public reasons and decide it Boston had violated the free speech rights of a conservative activist when she refused her request to fly a Christian flag on a City Hall flagpole.
In the latter case, a federal law – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – requires employers to accept the religious practices of employees unless this constitutes an « undue hardship » for the company. But a 1977 Supreme Court case, Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, says in part that employers can deny religious benefits to employees when they impose « more than a de minimis cost » on the company.
During arguments in the event in April The Biden administration’s top Supreme Court attorney, Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar, who represented the Post Office, told the justices that the Hardison case as a whole actually requires an employer who wants to deny housing to show di more.
But Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion for the court that while some lower courts understood Hardison in the way the Biden administration suggested, other courts mistakenly stuck to « de minimis » language « as a government standard. »
“In this case, both sides agree that the ‘de minimis’ test is not fair, but they differ slightly in which alternative language they prefer. … We believe it is sufficient to say that an employer must demonstrate that the burden of providing housing would result in a substantial increase in costs in connection with the performance of his particular business,” Alito wrote.
The Biden administration said requests for religious accommodations come more often as employees seek schedule changes such as Saturdays off or midday prayer breaks or waivers from a company’s dress code or grooming policies. They also show up when an employee wants to display a religious symbol in the workplace.
As for the particular dispute before them, the judges have remanded the case to a lower court for another consideration in light of their decision. The case involves Gerald Groff, a former employee of the United States Postal Service in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. For years, Groff was a substitute postman who worked on days when other postmen were free.
But when Amazon.com’s contract with the postal service required couriers to start delivering packages on Sundays, Groff balked. Initially, to avoid shifts, Groff moved to a more rural post office that still did not do Sunday deliveries, but eventually that post office was forced to do them as well.
Whenever Groff was scheduled on a Sunday, another courier had to work or his spot would go empty. Officials said Groff’s absences created a tense environment and contributed to morale problems. It also meant that other couriers had to deliver more Sunday mail than they otherwise would have.
Groff resigned in 2019 rather than wait to be fired. He is suing the Postal Service for not accommodating his religious practice. Lower courts had ruled against him earlier. Following the court’s ruling, his case will get another look.
Groff said in a statement after the ruling that he was grateful the court heard his case. “I hope this decision allows others to stand by their beliefs without living in fear of losing their job because of what they believe,” he said.
The case is Groff versus DeJoy22-174.