The U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Religious Asymptotic Status of Workers and the “Constitutional Keeping of the Lord’s Day”
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in an important case that tests how far employers must go to accommodate the religious views of their employees.
Federal civil rights law requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of workers as long as that accommodation does not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business.
Justice Elena Kagan also stressed the significant burden on other workers when one is allowed to refuse work. Workers may wish to attend religious services on Sundays though their religions may not require them to stop working on Sunday.
“I believe in a literal keeping of the Lord’s Day,” Groff said. “It’s the entire day as a day of rest and … spending time with fellow believers. But most of all, just to honor God and keep the day special unto him,” he says.
The Postal Service: Arbitrary Hours for Workers in an Amazon-Local Scheduling Contract are Time-and-a-Half
In a contract negotiated with the union, the Postal Service established a process for scheduling employees for Sunday and holiday Amazon deliveries. The process calls for non-career employees like Groff to fill in the gaps. The rural associate and assistant carriers would be assigned on a regular basis if not enough volunteers were called to work on Sundays and holidays.
The Postal Service contends that under those more generous rules, accommodating Groff still would have imposed an undue hardship on the Postal Service as a business by requiring it to operate with insufficient staff in a manner that would so burden other employees that substantial numbers would transfer or quit their jobs. The Postal Service argues that this qualifies as an undue hardship on its business under any standard.
The Supreme Court has stated that the cost can not be more than a de minimis amount, which is defined in the dictionary as a trifling amount.
That language has offended many religious groups. And now they are pressing the conservative Supreme Court supermajority to overrule or modify its prior ruling.
At Tuesday’s argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that at Groff’s small post office of three carriers, others had to pick up the burden when he could not work.
“You had one employee quit, one employee transfer and another employee file a grievance as a result of what Mr. Groff was receiving in terms of treatment,” Kavanaugh said.
Justice Samuel Alito suggested that the postal service would not have to pay much money to hire someone else for those days. But Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the postal service, replied that under the union contract, premium wages are time-and-a-half.
Undue burden vs de minimis: A response to Streett, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, and other concerns about morale in the workplace
Replying to concerns about morale in the workforce, lawyer Aaron Streett, representing Groff, said that morale would have to be bad enough to affect the efficient operation of the business.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said that all these questions seemed to her to focus on policy judgments made by Congress. She stated that Congress has repeatedly refused to change the law to accommodate Sabbath watchers like Groff.
She was concerned that a person or group could fail to get in Congress because they wanted to change the statute, and then go to court and say, ‘You give it to us.’ “
But some of the other court conservatives were unconvinced. The term “undue burden” was asked if it could be squared with de minimis.
Solicitor General Prelogar conceded that the phrase “de minimis” in the 1977 decision was unfortunate, but she urged the court not to reverse the 46-year-old precedent, which she said has been interpreted for decades by the EEOC and the lower courts in a manner that “generously” accommodates the interests of religious employees.
At the end of the day, it was unclear whether a majority of the court was more worried about imposing a burden on businesses and other employees or whether the court’s conservatives would once again come down on the side of religious interests.