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Supreme Court Raises Employer’s Burden in Denying Religious Accommodations

Gerald Groff was a mail carrier for a rural United States Post Office (USPS) outpost. He identifies himself as an Evangelical Christian and takes Sundays as a day of worship and rest. When the USPS began mail delivery on Sundays for Amazon, it accommodated Groff by redistributing the work to other employees. This redistribution at a post office with few employees burdened his supervisor and the other employees with covering his shifts. Groff received progressive discipline for his refusal to work on Sundays. He resigned and sued the USPS.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires covered employers to accommodate employees' religious practices unless doing so would impose an "undue hardship of the employer's business." In 1977, the Supreme Court referred to "undue hardship" as more than a "de minimis cost” (Hardison v. TWA). This definition is a widely cited standard.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Court in Groff v. DeJoy, asserts this was not the standard intended by the Court. Instead, language found elsewhere in the Hardison decision and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance demonstrates that employers must demonstrate “substantial additional costs” or “substantial expenditures” in the broader context of their business. The Court further opines that its clarification of the undue hardship meaning will have little impact on the EEOC's guidance, which includes temporary costs, voluntary shift swapping, occasional shift swapping, and administrative costs as examples of what is unlikely to show undue hardship.

The Court concluded, "Faced with an accommodation request like Groff's, an employer must do more than conclude that forcing other employees to work overtime would constitute an undue hardship. Consideration of other options would also be necessary."