Supreme Court Unanimously Approves Higher Standard for Religious Accommodations Under Title VII
Supreme Court Unanimously Approves Higher Standard for Religious Accommodations Under Title VII

On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously held in Groff v. DeJoy, No. 22-174, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) requires an employer that denies a religious accommodation to show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs that would affect the conduct of the employer’s business.

U.S. Post Office employee Gerald Groff is an Evangelical Christian who believes that Sunday should be devoted to worship and rest.  Groff had been a USPS employee since 2012. At the time he started, the USPS did not make Sunday deliveries.  However, after Sunday deliveries began, Groff requested that USPS accommodate his religious practice and avoid scheduling him on Sundays.  Groff was progressively disciplined for failing to work on Sundays, and he eventually resigned.

Groff sued under Title VII, alleging that USPS could have accommodated his Sunday Sabbath religious practice without undue hardship.  The District Court granted summary judgment to USPS, and the Third Circuit affirmed.  Those courts found that requiring an employer to bear more than a de minimis cost to provide a religious accommodation was an undue hardship, relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63.

The Court overruled the summary judgment decision by the District Court that had been affirmed by the Third Circuit, holding that employers who deny a religious accommodation must show that “the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”

The Court held that the key statutory term in Title VII was “undue hardship,” which it interpreted to mean a requisite burden at an “excessive” or “unjustifiable” level, beyond additional costs.  The Court also noted that the undue hardship test must take “into account all relevant factors in the case at hand,” including the particular accommodations at issue and their practical impact in light of the size, nature, and operating cost of the affected employer.  The Court vacated the Third Circuit judgment, and remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings.

California employers will be prepared to deal with religious accommodation requests under Title VII as they must already follow the high standard for accommodation requests under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and under the California Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012.  Under FEHA, the relevant question for a religious accommodation is if it is reasonably possible without undue hardship, which is similar to the Court’s ruling.

The author would like to gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Kelly O. Scott.

This publication is published by the law firm of Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP. The publication is intended to present an overview of current legal trends; no article should be construed as representing advice on specific, individual legal matters. Articles may be reprinted with permission and acknowledgment. ECJ is a registered service mark of Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP. All rights reserved.  


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