United States Supreme Court is Changing How Employers Must Handle Religious Accommodations
On June 29, 2023, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in Groff v. DeJoy changing the criteria employers must consider under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when asked to grant a religious accommodation. Title VII requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practices unless the reasonable accommodation would impose an undue burden on the employer’s business. Until Groff, when evaluating whether an accommodation was an undue burden, employers were only required to establish that the accommodation was more than a minor cost to its business. Groff changes this analysis.
In Groff, the plaintiff worked for the United States Postal Service (USPS) and was not required to work on Sunday. The Plaintiff was an Evangelical Christian who believed that Sunday should be devoted to worship and rest. Due to changes at USPS, the post office started delivering mail on Sunday. In response, the plaintiff requested, and received, a transfer to an office that did not make Sunday deliveries. Eventually, the employee’ new location began making Sunday deliveries and the plaintiff refused to work on Sunday due to their religious beliefs. As a result, the plaintiff was disciplined, and eventually resigned. After the plaintiff’s resignation, the plaintiff sued USPS arguing that they were entitled to a reasonable accommodation. In response, USPS argued that the accommodation would impose an undue burden, and therefore, not required to be provided.
In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court held that, “Title VII requires an employer that denies a religious accommodation to show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in a substantial increased cost in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” This is a significant shift in how courts analyze this issue.
The Groff decision will require employers to rethink their analysis when asked to provide a reasonable accommodation. Under Groff, for an employer to deny a request for a reasonable accommodation, the employer must determine that the requested accommodation truly poses an undue burden. However, the Groff decision will likely require employers to have quantifiable data to show that a requested accommodation is a “substantial” increase in cost to argue it is in fact an undue burden with religious accommodation requests.
Walker Lawrence chairs Levin Ginsburg’s employment law practice and has extensive experience with employment law and corporate counseling. Roenan Patt is a partner in Levin Ginsburg’s business and employment practices and has extensive experience in business and employment litigation. Should you have any questions about navigating these changes, feel free to contact Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org, Roenan at email@example.com, or any Levin Ginsburg attorney at 312-368-0100.
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