Skip to main content

On The Front Lines

Unanimous Supreme Court Provides Greater Protections for Employees’ Religious Beliefs, Sides With Postal Worker Requesting Sundays Off

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that government employees should not have to choose between their right of conscience and the threat of losing their livelihood when reasonable accommodations for their religious observances can be found.

In a unanimous ruling in Groff v. DeJoy, the Supreme Court held that an employee—in this case, a postal worker requesting Sundays off for religious worship—is entitled to a religious accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act unless it would result in substantial increased costs to the employer’s business. In an amicus brief filed in Groff, The Rutherford Institute joined with a legal coalition to argue that the government should be held to a higher standard when claiming an “undue hardship” in order to deny religious accommodation requests.

“The religious rights of government employees should not be treated as negligible concerns,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People.

Gerald Groff started working for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) in 2012 as a Rural Carrier Associate assisting regular carriers in the delivery of mail. The following year, USPS contracted with Amazon to deliver packages on Sundays. In keeping with his religious beliefs about worshiping on Sundays, Groff transferred to work at a smaller post office which did not deliver Amazon packages on Sundays. However, in March 2017, that post office began Sunday deliveries for Amazon as well. Rather than using or employing part-time employees who specifically work on Sundays and holidays to resolve scheduling difficulties caused by the low number of staff, Groff’s post office instead proposed that Groff accommodate the USPS by picking a different day of the week to worship and observe the Sabbath. However, Groff was firm in his religious convictions about worshiping on Sundays. And because Groff would not work when scheduled on Sundays, he faced progressive discipline. Denied any accommodation for his religious objections to working on Sundays, Groff resigned in January 2019 and then sued USPS for religious discrimination.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers must provide a reasonable accommodation for a worker’s religious observance and practice unless doing so would create an “undue hardship” on the conduct of the employer’s business. The Supreme Court seemed to indicate in 1977 that requiring an employer to bear anything more than a minimal cost in providing a religious accommodation constituted an undue hardship, which was a low standard employers could easily meet. Weighing in before the Court in Groff v. DeJoy, a legal coalition made up of The Rutherford Institute and a number of other civil liberties advocacy groups argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should be interpreted to prohibit the government from treating religious rights as a trifling concern to be easily discarded when it suits the government’s agenda. With this ruling in Groff, the Court clarified that an “undue hardship” on an employer means more than something just slightly beyond a minimal or trivial cost, which was an incorrect interpretation used by many employers and lower courts for the past 45 years to justify refusing employees’ religious accommodation requests.

Affiliate attorney Christopher F. Moriarty, Thomas C. Berg with the University of St. Thomas School of Law, and Laura Nammo and Kimberlee Wood Colby with the Christian Legal Society advanced the arguments in the Groff v. DeJoy amicus briefs.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.

Case History

March 2, 2023 • Supreme Court Case Pits Postal Worker’s Request to Get Sundays Off for Church Against Government Contract to Deliver Sunday Amazon Packages

December 21, 2022 • U.S. Postal Worker Ordered to Miss Sunday Church Services in Order to Deliver Amazon Packages 


Copyright 2023 © The Rutherford Institute • Post Office Box 7482 • Charlottesville, VA 22906-7482 (434) 978-3888
The Rutherford Institute is a registered 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are fully deductible as a charitable contribution.