A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Pennsylvania mail carrier who refused to work on Sundays due to his evangelical Christian beliefs. Gerald Groff sued the United States Postal Service for religious discrimination when he was reprimanded.
As part of its ruling, the court clarified laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against workers’ religious beliefs. Justices say employers must accommodate religious creeds unless it provides a substantial hardship on their business.
Defining “undue hardship”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandates that employers must accommodate worker religious practices unless it creates an “undue hardship.” The ruling reflects the conservative court’s trend of favoring employees’ and employers’ religious beliefs. In the past, the court defined “undue hardship” by saying employers should not have to accept a trifling – or “de minimis” – cost for accommodating workers’ religious views.
That language has been criticized over the years. Still, Congress has repeatedly rejected efforts to enact greater protections for workers’ religious views, including those who object to working on the Sabbath. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court that hardship must be more than “minimal.” He said courts should make commonsense rulings based on “substantial” impacts on the employer.
The court’s June 29 ruling sends Groff’s case against the USPS back to the lower courts.
The ruling follows a recent trend by the court’s majority
While this ruling was unanimous, it follows the playbook for the conservative justices. The high court has consistently ruled to protect religious freedoms for employees and employers. One example is a string of rulings shielding religious schools from employment discrimination laws applicable to teachers.
It’s been nearly a decade since the Hobby Lobby ruling, in which the court decided for-profit companies are exempt from some federal laws if they go against their religious beliefs. In that case, the court ruled Hobby Lobby did not have to follow federal law requiring companies to include coverage for contraceptive devices in their health insurance plans.