Decision means fewer religious employees will have to choose between their faith and their job.
Today, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of the United States granted a victory to former postal carrier Gerald Groff against the United States Postal Service, after Groff lost his job for observing the Sunday Sabbath. The decision strengthens legal protections for employees seeking religious accommodations, such as schedule changes to observe holy days. The far-reaching decision affects employment rights at every workplace with at least 15 employees in every state in the country.
The Court held that federal law requires workplaces to accommodate their religious employees unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense on the business. Previously, employers could avoid granting religious accommodations to employees of faith simply by pointing to trifling, minimal, or “de minimis” effects. This decision means that more employers will be legally required to respect their religious employees by granting them accommodations. Employees of faith often seek religious accommodations to honor their holy days, to take prayer breaks during the day, to dress according to their religious beliefs, or to otherwise not be forced to violate their religious beliefs on the job.
“We are grateful that the Justices determined that every employee deserves equal opportunity and fair treatment in the workplace,” said Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel for the Independence Law Center. “The Court understood that the previous Hardison standard was unworkable.”
In response to the decision, Gerald Groff said, “I am grateful to have had my case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and that they have decided to uphold religious liberty. I hope this decision allows others to be able to maintain their convictions without living in fear of losing their jobs because of what they believe.”
“This decision returns our nation to a proper balance that respects the religious rights of all working Americans and ensures businesses will thrive,” said Jeremy Samek, Senior Counsel for the Independence Law Center. “Our workforce and our country as a whole is made stronger when the inner forum of the conscience is protected.”
Independence Law Center is part of the legal team representing Gerald Groff, which also includes First Liberty Institute, Baker Botts LLC, and Church State Counsel.
“This is a landmark victory, not only for Gerald, but for every American. No American should be forced to choose between their faith and their job,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel for First Liberty. “The Court’s decision today restores religious freedom to every American in the workplace. This decision will positively help millions and millions of Americans – those who work now and their children and grandchildren.”
Aaron Streett, Partner at Baker Botts LLP, who argued Groff’s case before the Justices, said, “We are thrilled the Court today recognized that an America that values religious pluralism should respect the religious liberty rights of every employee. Our nation has a long history of protecting its employees from being treated differently at work just because of their faith. This decision is consistent with that history and is a tremendous win for all people of faith.”
Alan Reinach of the Church State Counsel said, “Restoring Title VII’s focus of protecting religious employees protects Americans of all faiths from discrimination. Today’s decision strengthens legal protections for employees seeking religious accommodations and affects employment rights at every workplace with at least 15 employees in every state in the country. This is a great/good day for religious liberty in our nation.”
The Court remanded Gerald Groff’s case to the appellate court for reconsideration in light of the new legal standard.
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Independence Law Center is a non-profit legal organization and civil rights law firm specializing in First Amendment issues.