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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF: More religious privileging likely in USPS case

FFRF is disheartened that the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear yet another case involving a Christian plaintiff seeking to broaden religious exemptions in the workplace.

On Jan. 12, the high court granted review in a case, Groff v. DeJoy, involving a disgruntled religious postal worker, in which it will reconsider the longstanding doctrine concerning accommodation for religious practices and what constitutes undue hardship for employers.

First Liberty Institute, a radical Christian nationalist legal outfit in Texas, has reached the Supreme Court with another case that has the potential to upend decades of settled law regarding religious freedoms, this time in the workplace. Oral arguments are likely to be held in April, with a decision expected in June.

The plaintiff is Gerald Groff, a former postal worker who accepted a position to work on an as-needed basis, necessarily tending to involve weekends, who requested not to work on Sundays because it was his sabbath. The U.S. Postal Service had accommodated Groff’s request by scheduling co-workers to work Groff’s shifts on Sundays, but the much smaller station he chose to then transfer to could no longer accommodate him.

Groff lost twice, before both the Eastern District Court in Pennsylvania and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that the USPS didn’t have to accommodate Groff because doing so placed an undue hardship on USPS — in part because of the burden placed on other employees.

The case hinges on the interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits religious discrimination in employment. It requires employers to accommodate religious practices of employees as long as doing so does not result in “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” Four decades ago, in the Trans World Airlines v. Hardison case, the Supreme Court defined “undue hardship” as anything that would require more than a trivial or minimal cost. By taking this case, the high court appears poised to once again overrule decades of precedent to benefit religious plaintiffs.

Title VII can prevent religious employment discrimination without imposing burdens on other employees. For example, by allowing someone to wear a hijab, no burden is placed on other employees. By accommodating private prayer practices that do not require other employees to adjust work schedules or cover for praying co-workers, no burden is placed on other employees. A religious accommodation should not inevitably impose a burden on other employees — or on any third parties.