The Supreme Court of the United States decided on January 13 to hear the case of Gerald Groff, a Christian former postal worker in rural Pennsylvania who was reprimanded and threatened with being fired for refusing to work on Sundays.
Arguing that he was wrongfully targeted because of his religious convictions, Groff filed a lawsuit for violations of his religious rights.
According to his attorneys, Groff v. DeJoy could have significant implications for the religious rights of employees across the country.
Groff began working for the United States Postal Service (USPS) in 2012 but did not experience problems until 2013, when USPS started requiring him to work Sunday shifts as part of the service’s contract with Amazon.
Because he believes that working on Sundays would violate the Third Commandment’s obligation to “keep holy the sabbath,” Groff requested a religious accommodation to not be scheduled for work on Sundays.
According to the First Liberty Institute, one of the firms representing Groff, his request was granted, allowing him to work extra shifts during the week instead of on Sunday.
But in 2016 the postal service rescinded its agreement with Groff and began scheduling him to work Sundays again.
Groff was made to look for replacements for every Sunday shift, resulting in his missing several shifts.
Rather than waiting to be fired, Groff resigned from his position with the postal service in 2019 and sued, saying his right to practice his religion had been violated.
The Third U.S. District Circuit Court ruled against Groff in May 2022, siding with the postal service’s claim that Groff’s religious accommodation request placed an “undue hardship” on the employer.
In its decision, the Third Circuit Court applied the precedent set in TWA v. Harrison, a 1977 Supreme Court case that posited employers were not obligated to accommodate workers’ religious requests if they posed more than a “de minimis,” or trivial cost.
Groff and his attorneys with the First Liberty Institute, Independence Law Center, Church State Council, and Baker Botts LLP appealed the case to SCOTUS, and their request was granted on Friday.
Now, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to revisit the question of what religious rights employees have in the workplace.
“Observing the Sabbath day is critical to many faiths — a day ordained by God. No one should be forced to violate the Sabbath to hold a job,” said Randall Wenger, chief counsel at the Independence Law Center.
“Americans shouldn’t be forced to choose between following their most deeply held convictions and keeping their job,” Wenger said to CNA. “There’s a balancing that should occur so that employers respect employees in reasonable ways. But an old Supreme Court decision has stripped away the protection for employees, and we’re asking the Court for an appropriate balance.”
Wenger told CNA that his firm took on Groff’s case because “religious liberty matters.”
Helping Groff resolve this conflict with his employer will have greater implications for religious workers across the country, according to Wenger.
“Getting this balance right will help employees in various settings where they’re asked to do things contrary to their faith,” Wenger said.