our friend Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch explained:
“Federal law protects employees’ ability to live and work according to their religious beliefs. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious practice unless doing so imposes undue hardships on their operations. For too long, that duty had been erased by a misguided court ruling. Thankfully, the Supreme Court clarified Trans World Airlines v. Hardison and affirmed that Title VII requires employers to grant religious accommodations in the absence of substantial additional costs in relation to the business. And coworker dislike of religious beliefs or practices is ‘off the table’ for consideration when making that assessment. This standard protects all Americans’ right to live and work in a manner consistent with their faith.”
In its ruling in Groff v. DeJoy, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court said federal law requires an employer that denies an employee a religious accommodation must show that the burden of the accommodation would result in substantial increased costs.
The court rejected the “de minimis” interpretation of the “Hardison Standard,” which has been used to deny employees’ religious accommodation requests if they present more than a “trivial cost” to the employer.
The Hardison Standard, established in the 1977 case TWA v. Hardison, interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to mean that employers were not obligated to accommodate workers’ religious requests if they posed more than a trivial cost. The court’s decision Thursday overturns that interpretation.
“The erroneous de minimis interpretation of Hardison may have had the effect of leading courts to pay insufficient attention to what the actual text of Title VII means with regard to several recurring issues,” Alito wrote.
“What is most important is that ‘undue hardship’ in Title VII means what it says,” the decision’s syllabus said, according to an analysis by Peter Pinedo for the Catholic News Agency. “Courts should resolve whether a hardship would be substantial in the context of an employer’s business in the commonsense manner that it would use in applying any such test.”
Alito wrote that “impacts on coworkers are relevant only to the extent those impacts go on to affect the conduct of the business.”
Mr. Pinedo reported Justice Alito clarified that bias or hostility toward religion cannot be considered a factor in determining whether to grant a religious accommodation request.
“A hardship that is attributable to employee animosity to a particular religion, to religion in general, or to the very notion of accommodating religious practice cannot be considered ‘undue,’” Alito said. “If bias or hostility to a religious practice or a religious accommodation provided a defense to a reasonable accommodation claim, Title VII would be at war with itself.”
At the heart of this case is Gerald Groff, a former postal worker who is also an evangelical missionary.
In 2019, Groff resigned from his position with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) after years of allegedly being harassed, targeted, and disciplined for refusing to work Sundays so that he could abide by the Third Commandment, to “keep holy the sabbath day,” reported Mr. Pinedo.
Groff then sued the USPS for violating his religious rights.
After his claims were denied by both a Pennsylvania district court and the 3rd Circuit Court, the Supreme Court agreed to take up his appeal in January.
The court’s decision is expected to have a major impact on the religious rights of employees across the country.
ADF attorneys filed two friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court in this case: The first in September 2022 urging the court to take the case and the second in February of this year after the court agreed to do so. Both briefs were filed on behalf of John Kluge, a former Indiana music teacher who, in a separate case of his own, is challenging a public school’s decision to revoke his Title VII accommodation based on ideological complaints about his religious beliefs, which then forced Kluge to resign.
Groff v. DeJoy
Justice Clarence Thomas
religious accomodation in the workplace
Trans World Airlines v. Hardison
Justice Samuel Alito