The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of the evangelical postal worker Gerald Groff in Groff v DeJoy on June 29. Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the court’s opinion, clarified that employers must accommodate employees’ religious needs unless there is an “undue hardship” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
A previous standard, under the court’s 1977 decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v Hardison held that employers could refuse workers’ requests to avoid working on their Sabbath since that posed more than a much lower, de minimis burden.
“For decades, ever since the Supreme Court issued its terrible ruling in the Hardison case, the Orthodox Union advocated for that ruling to be reversed or revised,” stated Nathan Diament, the OU’s executive director for public policy, and co-author of an amicus brief to the court on the case.
“Forcing American Jews, or Americans of any faith, to choose between their career and their conscience is fundamentally at odds with the principle of religious freedom that is the foundation of the United States and our Constitution,” Diament added. “We regret that it has taken so long, but we are grateful that the Supreme Court has finally righted the wrong of Hardison and has reinstated the full right of religious accommodation in the workplace.”
Mark Rienzi, president and CEO of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated that the ruling “corrects decades of rulings against religious Americans.”
“Big corporations got away with firing employees for their religious practices for decades, thanks to a fundamental misreading of civil rights law,” he stated. “That mistake by the court long pushed faith out of daily life by giving employers free rein to give religious workers the boot for observing holy days and taking time to pray.”
Marc Stern, chief legal officer at the American Jewish Committee, stated that not every belief and practice can be accommodated, but “experience has shown that with some effort and goodwill, most can.”
“The court’s insistence that hardship on employers means substantial hardship and not de minimis hardship, puts real teeth into the law,” and it “also ensures you do not have to abandon your most deeply held beliefs as a condition for having a job,” he added. “There are those who insist that every aspect of public life must be governed only by secular rules and that people should leave their religious beliefs and practices at home. That is not the American tradition, and it is not the position embodied in Title VII.”
Kenneth Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, praised the decision but predicted that there could be a need for further lawsuits.
“We are especially glad that the Supreme Court has, at long last, eliminated the pernicious legal standard under which employers need not offer reasonable accommodations to religious employees unless doing so would require no more than a ‘de minimis’ expense on the employer’s part,” he stated.
“At the same time, the court made clear that its standard is ‘fact-specific’. As a result, some employers may continue to find excuses to deny their workers’ reasonable requests,” he added. “This may mean more litigation in the future if employers fail to treat their workers properly.”
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, president of the Coalition for Jewish Values, stated that the decision is “a powerful victory for religious liberty.” Previously, he added, “Orthodox Jews were denied accommodations when work schedules could easily have been rearranged.”