Attorneys for former Lancaster County postal worker ask high court to restore religious liberty in the workplace
WASHINGTON, DC—Independence Law Center, First Liberty Institute, Baker Botts, LLP, and Church State Council filed their opening brief at the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of former mail carrier Gerald Groff today. The brief asks the Justices to restore the important protections for religious employees to what Congress intended before the courts watered down Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
A copy of the brief is available at FaithfulCarrier.com. Argument in Groff v. DeJoy is set for April 18, 2023.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has the opportunity to restore religious liberty in the workplace,” said Kelly J. Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel to First Liberty. “Our nation has a long history of protecting its employees from being treated unfairly at work just because of their faith. This is an important case for all Americans.”
“Justice Thurgood Marshall once said that a ‘society that truly values religious pluralism cannot compel adherents of minority religions to make the cruel choice of surrendering their religion or their job,’” Aaron Streett of Baker Botts said. “Making sure everyone is treated fairly at work promotes our nation’s historic commitment to religious diversity.”
“Courts have interpreted Title VII so restrictively that employers need not grant even the most simple accommodations to religious observers to enable them to follow their faith,” observed Alan Reinach of Church State Council. “Restoring Title VII’s focus of protecting religious employees motivates everyone from the boardroom to the mail room to find a solution that works for the business as a whole.”
“No employee should be forced to choose between their faith and their job,” noted Randall Wenger, COO & Chief Counsel to Independence Law Center. “Religious accommodations should be treated in the same way we accommodate the workplace needs of any employee.”
Born and raised in the heart of Amish and Mennonite country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Gerald Groff applied to work for the United States Postal Service (USPS) in 2012. He thought working for USPS would allow him to honor the Lord’s Day each week by resting, worshipping with his church family, and serving his family and community.
But, in 2013, Amazon.com contracted USPS to provide Sunday delivery. Initially, USPS accommodated Groff, but soon required him to work Sundays or USPS would make an example out of him. Even though he covered his coworkers’ shifts every day (including holidays) except the Lord’s Day, over the course of almost two years, USPS subjected Groff to eight (8) pre-disciplinary interviews, a letter of warning, and two (2) suspensions while mocking his appearance, forcing him to carry more mail than other carriers, docking his pay without justification, and refusing his requests to take unpaid leave.
As a result of these hostile working conditions, Groff suffered hair loss, chronic insomnia, weight gain, anxiety, and more. He resigned in January 2019 knowing his termination was imminent and initiated this litigation.
Groff’s attorneys appeal a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that affirmed a decision by a lower court that concluded that USPS need not accommodate Groff if doing so would harm employee morale. Dissenting from that opinion, Judge Thomas Hardiman warned that, unless overturned, the Third Circuit’s decision offers “a heckler’s veto by disgruntled employees” to any employer who would otherwise accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees.
Groff v. DeJoy presents the Justices with the opportunity to re-evaluate the “de minimis” standard first expressed in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison (1977) and reconfirm the language of Title VII, as passed by Congress, requiring an employer to accommodate an employee’s religion unless it would cause an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”