SCOTUS Will Be Put To The Test With This Religious Freedom Case

By Pamela Glass | Saturday, 27 August 2022 05:15
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A former postal worker who has sued the U.S. Postal Service for pushing him to work on Sundays despite his religious sentiments has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

First Liberty Institute, Baker Botts LLP, the Church State Council, and the Independence Law Center filed the appeal Tuesday on behalf of Gerald Groff of Pennsylvania.

The appeal mentioned federal civil rights law, namely Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on religious belief.

"In affirming summary judgment for USPS, the court of appeals held that an employer may establish undue hardship merely by showing that an accommodation burdens or inconveniences the plaintiff's co-workers," reads the appeal.

"Because religious expression is a vital part of 'a pluralistic society,' it should be met with tolerance and accommodation, not silenced by a 'heckler's veto.'"

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Stephanie Taub, senior counsel at First Liberty, announced in a statement that she believes no one "should be forced to choose between their religion and their job."

"We are asking the Court to overturn a poorly-reasoned case from the 1970s that tips the balance in favor of corporations and the government over the religious rights of employees," she declared.

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An Evangelical Christian, Groff started working for the Quarryville Post Office in Lancaster County for the USPS in 2012 and later moved to the Paradise Post Office to work as a rural carrier associate.

In 2015, when the Quarryville Post Office began delivering Amazon packages on Sundays, Groff requested to be given an exemption from working on Sundays in return for covering shifts on other days of the week.

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He was later moved to the Holtwood office. When that office began to deliver packages on Sundays in 2017, management accommodated Groff by having others work on Sundays.

Nonetheless, while working for the Holtwood office, management discontinued his accommodation in July 2018 and increasingly disciplined Groff for his refusal to work Sundays.

In response to the disciplining, Groff resigned from his position and filed a lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl dismissed Groff's case in April 2021.

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Schmehl, an Obama appointee, had claimed that the plaintiff failed to reveal that he was "treated differently with regards to Sundays because he was a Christian."

In May, a three-judge panel for the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against Groff, concluding that the postal service could force him to work on Sundays.

Circuit Judge Patty Shwartz, another Obama appointee, wrote in the majority view that removing Groff from Sunday work "would cause an undue hardship" for the postal service.

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"Exempting Groff from working on Sundays caused more than a de minimis cost on USPS because it actually imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale," ruled Shwartz.

Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman, a George W. Bush appointee, claimed in dissent 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," wrote Hardiman. "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayed Gerald Groff from the completion of his appointed rounds."

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