Groff v. DeJoy
Ever since the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison severely limited protections for religious Americans in the workplace, businesses have used the precedent as a license to discriminate against employees who ask for accommodations to workplace policies, especially people of minority faiths. Gerald Groff, a U.S. Postal Service worker who was denied an accommodation to observe his Sunday Sabbath, is the latest example of this discrimination brought on by the Hardison decision.
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SCOTUS guts religious rights
For decades, many Americans have been forced to choose between their faith and their job because of the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison. In that case, the Court ruled that one of the nation’s largest airlines did not have to provide a religious accommodation to an employee who could not work on his Sabbath day due to his religious beliefs. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act says that employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices, the Court ruled that employers only need to prove a minimal burden on the operation of their business to deny employees accommodations.
As legal scholars have pointed out, Hardison was the result of the Supreme Court’s outdated Establishment Clause thinking from its now-overturned decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman. Lemon made the Hardison Court fear that even accommodating minority religious practices would be unconstitutional. In the years that followed, this legal standard has been used by large companies to discriminate against religious employees in ways that would be unthinkable to other protected groups under federal law.
Hardison punishes religious minorities
Over the years, Becket has defended multiple religious Americans—especially those of minority faiths—who were discriminated against by their employers under Hardison. Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court in EEOC v. Abercombie, a case in which an Abercrombie & Fitch store refused to hire a Muslim woman because the district manager said her headscarf might conflict with the store’s dress code policy.
In Patterson v. Walgreen Co., Becket represented Darrell Patterson, a dedicated Walgreens employee and devout Seventh-day Adventist who was fired from his position after he could not attend a training session on his Sabbath. Patterson asked the Supreme Court to hear his case, and while three Justices expressed the need to reconsider Hardison, the Court declined to review. In Dalberiste v. GLE Associates, Becket represented a devout Seventh-day Adventist who was also denied his religious rights soon after receiving a job offer. Mitche Dalberiste requested a scheduling accommodation for his Sabbath observance from his new employer, but instead of respecting his religious beliefs, the company rescinded his offer of employment. Again, the Court decided to delay reconsidering Hardison for a future case.
In 2023, the Supreme Court decided to review a case of a religious employee who was discriminated against by the U.S. Postal Service. Gerald Groff began working as a USPS carrier in 2012, and his religious beliefs require him to observe the Sunday Sabbath. After USPS began delivering packages on Sunday for Amazon, Groff offered to take extra shifts on weekdays and holidays to avoid working on his Sabbath. USPS initially granted him an accommodation, but then changed its mind and began scheduling Groff for Sunday work. Groff refused to violate his faith, and faced termination until he ultimately resigned in 2019. Groff’s case before the Supreme Court now has the potential to overturn Hardison, which would protect religious employees nationwide and bury this discriminatory legal standard for good.
Religious Americans deserve protection in the workplace
Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Groff’s case, arguing that the Hardison decision was the result of outdated Establishment Clause thinking from the now-overturned decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman. The brief outlines the history of Lemon’s impact on Hardison and argues that because Lemon is now overturned, the court has the chance to set a better legal standard that protects religious employees as Congress intended.
Becket argues that the new standard should resemble the one from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the only other federal law with the same language regarding workplace accommodations. Under the ADA, employers must reasonably accommodate a person’s disability unless the employer can show that the accommodation imposes a substantial hardship to business operations. Applying this same standard to religious accommodations would replace the minimal burden test under Hardison that has allowed businesses to discriminate against their employees for decades.
Importance to Religious Liberty:
Individual Freedom: Religious exercise encompasses more than just thought or worship—it involves visibly practicing faith, at home and at work. All Americans must be free to live according to their consciences without fear of losing their jobs.