SCOTUS To Decide Whether Postal Service May Punish Carrier For Observing A Sunday Sabbath

The Supreme Court added eight new cases to its docket this afternoon. One of them, Groff v. DeJoy, raises issues of religious liberty and workplace accommodation. Gerald Groff claims that the U.S. Postal Service discriminated against him on the basis of his faith under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by punishing him for refusing to work Sunday shifts due to Sabbath observance. Groff had initially tried and failed to simply cover all his shifts by swapping with fellow employees, which effectively forced the issue of whether he could demand as an accommodation that he be exempted from being assigned to work Sundays. A divided panel of the Third Circuit thought that was too much to ask and imposed “undue hardship” on the employer because it would shift the burden to his co-workers. Judge Thomas Hardiman dissented:

A burden on coworkers isn’t the same thing as a burden on the employer’s business. . . . Neither Supreme Court nor Third Circuit precedent establish a derivative rule that equates undue hardship on business with an impact—no matter how small—on coworkers. . . . Title VII requires USPS to show how Groff’s accommodation would harm its business, not merely how it would impact Groff’s coworkers. . . . The Majority renders any burden on employees sufficient to establish undue hardship, effectively subjecting Title VII religious accommodation to a heckler’s veto by disgruntled employees.

… Judge Hardiman, however, argued that this got the legal standard wrong by confusing hardship on co-workers with hardship on the employer, and he concluded that the case should go back for more evidence:

In deciding Groff’s case, the District Court inferred an atextual rule from Title VII: “an accommodation that causes more than a de minimis impact on co-workers creates an undue hardship.” . . . The Majority gathers cases—all from other circuits—affirming that rule, but without an important correction to the District Court’s analysis. . . . Simply put, a burden on coworkers isn’t the same thing as a burden on the employer’s business. . . . Neither Supreme Court nor Third Circuit precedent establish a derivative rule that equates undue hardship on business with an impact—no matter how small—on coworkers. . . . Title VII requires USPS to show how Groff’s accommodation would harm its business, not merely how it would impact Groff’s coworkers. . . . The Majority renders any burden on employees sufficient to establish undue hardship, effectively subjecting Title VII religious accommodation to a heckler’s veto by disgruntled employees. (Citations omitted).

Dan McLaughlin | Source (1) and Source (2)


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7 comments

  1. This is a more thorny situation than some others that have been surfacing lately. When I began working full time in a service industry, I had to sign an agreement to work overtime, call-outs for trouble reports, and Saturday and Sunday shifts, on an alternating basis with the rest of the crew. One of the fellows who used to work in that same group ultimately converted to Seventh Day Adventist and subsequently refused to work any Saturdays. He was fired and I don’t recall whether or not he got the union involved in the issue, but if so they couldn’t do much about it. The USPS has similar characteristics (“come rain or shine the mail must go through” or some similar trite slogan) so I would think it would be difficult for the court to rule in favor of the letter carrier.

    • George,

      There is a good bit of case law and there are precedents protecting the right of works to have a Sabbath. Your Adventist colleague should perhaps have talked to a lawyer since they have court decisions in their favor. I agree that this is problem that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

  2. The post office works on Sunday in the United States?

    A barbarous custom indeed. Here in Canada our mail workers are granted a Sabbath rest.

    • A friend who recently retired from a long career as a USPS letter carrier explained that there are two classes of letter carriers: regular six-day week employees and “overtime” carriers. The overtime employees are paid more than the regular carriers, but they frequently have to work extended hours and often double up routes if another employee is absent. Additionally, they have to work Sundays on a rotating basis for parcel delivery. If a person signs up for the “overtime” class he/she is expected to work Sundays as required.

    • My understanding was that once the USPS signed their (fascist) sweetheart deal with Amazon, which undercut Amazon’s competitors, Sunday delivery was required and the local office had to put on new carriers. Previously, at least the local post office was closed and there was no mail delivery on the Lord’s Day.

  3. I had been fortunate, when required to work Sundays, to be able in later years to still be able to at least attend worship services (in some cases, both morning and evening). (What about in earlier years? Wasn’t saved then!) I believe there’s something to be said for, on the one hand, insisting on one’s right to be able to worship freely on the Lord’s Day, yet, also consider fellow workers who may be impacted by my exercise of such right, and arrange where possible to ‘rotate’ said duty so that all would have an opportunity to worship.

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