All Americans should have the freedom to work without being forced to choose between their faith and their job. But that is the choice Gerald Groff’s employer forced him to make. Groff, a United States Postal Service worker firmly believes he must “[r]emember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” When the post office began delivering Amazon packages on Sundays, Groff’s supervisor granted him an accommodation to observe Sunday Sabbath. A few years later, the post office withdrew the accommodation and scheduled him on Sundays. In June 2023, the United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in Gerald’s favor.
Gerald Groff applied to work for the United States Postal Service (USPS) because it would allow him to honor the Lord’s Day each week by resting, worshiping with his church family, and serving his family and community.
As a substitute mail carrier in his family’s native Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – an area steeped in religious tradition – Gerald delivered mail to any route that was requested, worked any shift that was offered, including many Saturdays and holidays, to reach his goal of becoming a full-time mail carrier. Some days he delivered mail to as many as 700 homes in his rugged, rural community.
Eventually, the Post Office changed its practices and contracted with Amazon to deliver packages seven days a week and demand employees in Gerald’s position to begin working Sundays, something Gerald could not do. Gerald did all he could to accommodate the Post Office, including covering extra duties and routes so his co-workers could have easier Saturdays and holidays off. He would work any Saturday or holidays for them. All he asked in return was that the Post Office accommodate his deeply held belief that he should honor the Lord’s Day. He delivered to some of the most difficult routes in even the worst weather – usually using his personal vehicle – to show his willingness to accommodate both the Post Office and his co-workers.
At first, Gerald’s supervisor accommodated his commitment to honor the Lord’s Day. When that accommodation ended suddenly, Gerald chose to transfer to a new post office that didn’t require Amazon delivery at that point, which meant sacrificing all his seniority on his path to becoming a full-time carrier.
It would have been a temptation for Gerald to simply work a Sunday here or there to maintain his seniority so that he could eventually become full-time and have every Sunday off to honor the Lord’s Day, but to Gerald that meant violating his conscience, something he just could not do. No American should be forced to choose between their livelihood and their faith.
Despite that sacrifice, the new post office also eventually began to require Sunday delivery. They scheduled Gerald numerous times for Sunday shifts knowing he could not work them, and despite the fact that he would work every Saturday, holidays, and other days of the week.
In a unanimous 9-0 decision on June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court granted a victory for Gerald Groff and for employees all over the United States.
The Court held that federal law requires employers to accommodate their religious employees unless doing so would cause an undue hardship, which is a 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 “de minimis’ language, articulated in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison (1977) and used by lower courts to water down the protections of Title VII, was not in line with the clear language of “undue hardship” used in the Title VII statute. The far-reaching decision affects employment rights at every workplace with at least 15 employees in every state in the country. This decision means that more employers will be legally required to respect their religious employees by granting them accommodations.
Our Role in this Case
Independence Law Center represented Gerald Groff, along with First Liberty Institute, Cornerstone Law Firm, Baker Botts LLC, and Church State Counsel.