The Supreme Court on Thursday extended protections for religious workers in a case involving a mail carrier for the US Postal Service who refused to work on his Sabbath.
In a unanimous decision, the justices rejected the test that has long been used to determine what accommodations an employer must make for religious workers, but declined to rule on the merits of the case, It was sent back to the lower court for consideration under a new one. Standard.
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the case gave it “the first opportunity in nearly 50 years” to explain how workplaces should be adapted to employees’ religious requests.
For an employer to deny an employee’s requested or religious accommodation, Justice Alito wrote, “it must be shown that the burden of providing the accommodation would result in a substantial increase in costs in connection with the operation of his particular business.”
This decision could affect countless workplaces and may require many employers to make substantial changes to accommodate religious workers.
The ruling is the latest in a series of court rulings focused on expanding the role of religion in public life, sometimes at the expense of other values such as gay rights and access to contraception.
In the past few years, the Supreme Court has ruled that a high school football coach has a constitutional right to pray at the 50-yard line after his team’s games, religious in state programs supporting private schools in Maine and Montana. programs, a Catholic social services agency in Philadelphia could defy city rules and refuse to work with same-sex couples who apply to take in foster children, and the Trump administration is cracking down on employers with religious objections. may allow the U.S. to deny contraceptive coverage to female workers.
The latest decision may be less divisive than some of the court’s recent rulings on religion, partly because defending Sabbath observance does not divide Americans along general lines. Indeed, liberal judges have in the past tried to protect workers from discipline and dismissal for practicing their faith, and all three signed the ruling in court.
The case was brought by Gerald Groff, an evangelical Christian and former missionary who worked as a substitute mail carrier. After the Postal Service struck a deal with Amazon in 2013 to deliver packages on Sundays, Mr. Groff said he had to choose between his faith and his livelihood, and the option of quitting after being disciplined for not getting work chose.
“I felt it was my decision between what the Post Office wanted and what God wanted from me,” Mr. Groff said in an interview on Thursday. “I hope it’s inspirational to people because in America we have these freedoms and they’re safe.”
The Postal Service said in a statement it was confident it would win after the lower court reconsidered the case.
Mr. Groff was represented by the First Liberty Institute, which describes itself as the nation’s largest legal organization focused exclusively on protecting religious liberty.
Kelly Shackelford, president and chief counsel of First Liberty, welcomed the decision, saying it restored “religious freedom for every American in the workplace.”
“This decision will positively help hundreds of millions of Americans who work now and their children and grandchildren,” he said.
American Atheists, who advocate secularism in government policies and who submitted an amicus brief in support of the Postal Service, said the ruling created “loopholes, adjustments, and ‘rights’ for religious people while placing more of a burden on atheists.” The worrying trend of expansion has continued.” Humanist, and non-religious.”
Mr. Groff filed the suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that requires employers to “reasonably accommodate” workers’ religious practice as long as they are for company business. Can do so “without undue hardship”.
An example from 1977, Trans World Airlines vs. Hardison, stood in his way. That decision stated that employers are not required to accommodate workers if the burden on their business is modest, or more than a “minimum”.
Lawyers for the Postal Service argued that Mr. Groff’s refusal to work on Sundays placed a significant burden on a small post office, was strained over a settlement with a labor union, and was bad for the morale of other workers.
Lower courts ruled against Mr. Groff. Judge Patty SchwartzWriting for the divided three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, said that “Exempting Groff from working Sundays cost the USPS more than the minimum cost because it actually imposed on his co-workers, disrupted the workplace and work flow, and lowered employee morale.”
in disagreement, Judge Thomas M. Hardiman wrote that “the majority places any burden on employees to establish undue hardship, effectively subjecting Title VII religious adjustments by disgruntled employees to a heckler’s veto.”