Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 29, 2023 / 08:47 am (CNA).
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling Thursday in favor of a Christian postal worker who says he was targeted and disciplined by his employer for refusing to work on Sundays because of his religious beliefs.
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 minimus” interpretation of the “Hardison Standard,” which has been used to reject employees’ religious accommodation requests if they present more than a “trivial cost” to the employer.
“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 said.
At the heart of this case was 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.”
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.
Besides rejecting the de minimis interpretation, the Supreme Court returned Groff’s case to lower courts to be examined under the new standard.
“Without foreclosing the possibility that USPS will prevail, we think it appropriate to leave it to the lower courts to apply our clarified context-specific standard, and to decide whether any further factual development is needed,” Alito wrote.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson issued a separate concurring opinion.
The court’s decision is expected to have a major impact on the religious rights of employees across the country.
According to the religious liberty law firm Becket, under the Hardison precedent, 86% of workplace religious accommodation requests are denied. “Hardison’s ‘de minimis test’ has been used by large companies to deny even the most basic of religious accommodations for their employees — especially employees with minority religious beliefs,” the law firm said.
The First Liberty Institute, a firm specializing in religious rights cases, represented Groff in this case.
This is a developing story.
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