US Supreme Court to Review Case of Christian Postal Carrier Who Refused to Work on Sundays
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to review a Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision finding that the United States Postal Service ("USPS") is not required to provide religious accommodation allowing a Christian employee to observe the Sunday Sabbath.
As CBN News reported last May, veteran mail carrier Gerald Groff from Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against USPS in 2020, shortly after the postal service partnered with Amazon. The partnership meant Groff would have to make deliveries on Sunday, even though he observes it as a religious day of rest.
CBN's Faithwire previously reported that he was never mandated to work Sundays until the partnership with Amazon.
According to court documents, the postal carrier could avoid working on Sundays by switching shifts with other employees. However, that would not completely eliminate the conflict between his religious practice and his work obligations.
Groff is represented by First Liberty Institute, Baker Botts LLP, the Church State Council, and the Independence Law Center.
"It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion," said President, CEO, and Chief Counsel for First Liberty Kelly Shackelford. "It's time for the Supreme Court to reconsider a decades-old case that favors corporations and the government over the religious rights of employees."
"Observing the Sabbath day is critical to many faiths—a day ordained by God. No one should be forced to violate the Sabbath to hold a job," added Randall Wenger of the Independence Law Center.
Aaron Streett of Baker Botts said, "We are simply asking the Supreme Court to apply the law as written and require employers to grant meaningful religious accommodations to people of faith."
Lead trial counsel Alan Reinach of the Church State Council observed: "Workers have suffered too long with the Supreme Court's interpretation that disrespects the rights of those with sincere faith commitments to a workplace accommodation. It's long past time for the Supreme Court to protect workers from religious discrimination."
Postal Carrier Lost Seniority When He Transferred to Another Post Office
When the post office started delivering packages on Sundays for Amazon, Groff chose to be reassigned to another post office branch that did not participate in Sunday deliveries, even though it came at the cost of his seniority, because it allowed him to follow his religious conscience, according to First Liberty.
When Sunday deliveries began at that post office branch, Groff then asked for a religious accommodation to observe Sunday Sabbath. The postmaster initially granted his request, allowing him to work additional shifts on other days of the week instead, but later the USPS offered only proposals that would still require him to work on Sundays.
After repeatedly missing work shifts, Groff resigned from his job in 2019 and filed his lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The postal worker was "needlessly disciplined" over the matter, Groff's filing stated. He sought reinstatement of his position and his seniority within the USPS and recognition of the religious accommodation. Additionally, Groff asked for back pay for the time since he was forced to resign from the job and an unspecified amount of money for emotional damages.
The district court sided with the USPS, concluding that accommodating Groff would pose an undue hardship on USPS. The Third Circuit upheld that decision.
However, Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman, a George W. Bush appointee, issued a partial dissent in the ruling, indicating that "a conflict had to be totally eliminated to result in reasonable accommodation under Title VII."
"Inconvenience to Groff's coworkers alone doesn't constitute undue hardship. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayed Gerald Groff from the completion of his appointed rounds," Hardiman wrote.
"But his sincerely held religious belief precluded him from working on Sundays. Because USPS has not yet shown that it could not accommodate Groff's Sabbatarian religious practice without its business suffering undue hardship, I respectfully dissent," he continued.
Attorneys for Groff, argue that, as a federal employee with USPS, Groff was protected by Title VII from discrimination based on his religious beliefs and practices. They suggested the Supreme Court re-examine TWA v. Hardison, the key case that determined the lower courts' decisions.
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