God or Your Job? Supreme Court to Hear Case of Christian Postal Worker Who Declined to Work Sundays
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next Tuesday, April 18, in Groff v. Dejoy, a case that has major implications for religious-liberty rights in the U.S.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next Tuesday, April 18, in Groff v. Dejoy, a case involving a Christian former postal worker that has major implications for religious-liberty rights in the U.S.
What is the case about?
In 2019, Gerald Groff resigned from his position with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) after years of allegedly being harassed, targeted and disciplined for declining to work Sundays so that he could abide by the Third Commandment, to “keep holy the Sabbath day.”
Groff then sued USPS for violating his religious rights. After his claims were denied by both a Pennsylvania district court and the 3rd Circuit Court, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) agreed to take up his appeal on Jan. 13. He is being represented by the First Liberty Institute.
In question in Groff v. Dejoy is what religious rights workers have in their workplace and what types of accommodations employers must make for religious employees.
Groff is an evangelical Christian missionary and a former Pennsylvania mailman. In a Tuesday interview with First Liberty Institute, Groff explained that he has a deeply held religious conviction that the Sabbath is “not just about going to church, it’s about obeying the Lord and putting the entire day aside to honor and glorify him.”
Having gone on multiple mission trips to Africa and Asia, Groff took a position with the postal service in 2012 specifically because at that time USPS was closed on Sundays.
In an August 2022 interview, Groff explained: “I’m passionate about people hearing the word of God, I’m passionate about living out my faith … and allowing the Lord to use me to glorify himself.”
At first, Groff had no problems working at USPS; but in 2013, the postal service began requiring him to work Sunday shifts as part of its contract with Amazon.
Groff immediately requested a religious accommodation to not work on Sundays, volunteering to work extra shifts during the week instead.
His request was honored for a while; but in 2016, the postal service rescinded its agreement and began scheduling him to work Sundays again. At first, Groff requested a transfer to a smaller postal station that did not do Sunday deliveries; but in 2017, that station also began requiring employees to work Sundays. Groff had to look for replacements for every Sunday shift, resulting in his missing several shifts.
According to Groff, he was repeatedly harassed and intimidated by his bosses because of his request to not work on Sundays.
In Tuesday’s First Liberty Institute interview, Groff claimed: “[My boss once] cornered me out of my car as I was loading outside the post office and he basically said, ‘The post office is thinking of making an example of you,’ and so I lived from that point on in fear that today could be the day that I come to work and they drop the bomb on me that I could be fired.”
After facing escalating disciplinary action and the sense that he was on the brink of termination, Groff resigned from his position with the postal service in 2019 rather than waiting to be fired.
Groff sued USPS in the federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, saying his right to practice his religion had been violated.
Why This Case Matters
This case is about more than just Groff. Whatever ruling the Supreme Court issues will have a major impact on the religious rights of employees across the country.
Legal experts believe that Groff v. Dejoy allows the Supreme Court an opportunity to revisit the question of what religious rights employees have in the workplace, including whether Christians could be allowed to take Sundays off to worship God.
Until now, something called “the Hardison standard” has given employers a legal precedent to point to, that any religious requests employees raise that present more than a trivial cost do not need to be accommodated. That could now be changed by the Supreme Court.
In its ruling against Groff, the 3rd Circuit Court applied the precedent set in TWA v. Hardison, 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.
According to the religious liberty law firm Becket, under the Hardison precedent, 86% of workplace religious-accommodation requests are denied, and “Hardison’s ‘de minimis test’ has been used by large companies to deny even the most basic of religious accommodations for their employees — especially employees with minority religious beliefs.”
In recent years, the Supreme Court has made some significant decisions in favor of religious liberty.
In June 2022, SCOTUS ruled in favor of a high-school football coach’s First Amendment right to pray on the field in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District.
Another June 2022 SCOTUS decision, Carson v. Makin, established that a Maine policy barring students attending religious schools from receiving student aid violated the First Amendment.
There was no legal or procedural requirement for SCOTUS to take up Groff v. Dejoy.
Because the Supreme Court could have allowed the lower courts’ decisions to stand but chose to take up Groff’s appeal anyway, many legal experts believe that SCOTUS may want to use this case to do away with the Hardison standard and reestablish the rights of religious workers and employers.
“What’s really at stake here is whether future employees are going to be required to abandon their religious beliefs at their employer’s behest,” First Liberty Institute senior counsel Jeremy Dys told CNA. “This is a case that is about whether or not we’re going to restore religious liberty to the workplace. No employee should be put to the test of choosing between their faith and their livelihood.”
According to Dys, the Hardison decision “basically handed employees’ religious liberty over to the employer.”
The de minimis standard imposed by Hardison, Dys said, allows companies to use even “a very little, tiny burden on the employer” to justify denying employees their religious liberty.
Since he believes the postal service will not be able to prove it faced an undue burden in granting Groff’s request, Dys said that he is confident the Supreme Court will rule in Groff’s favor.
“I expect the justices at the end of the day are going to be able to restore religious liberty to our workplaces across the country,” Dys said.
Because this is a “rather late argument,” Dys said that he expects SCOTUS won’t issue a final decision until near the end of June.
Those interested can listen in to the Supreme Court oral argument Tuesday morning via an audio livestream that will be available on the court’s website.
This is a developing story.