Supreme Court considers Christian mail carrier’s refusal to work Sundays

A former evangelical Christian mail carrier’s battle with the U.S. The Supreme Court has another opportunity to expand religious rights by allowing the Postal Service to enforce his refusal to work Sundays. However, it also leads to a debate about whether religious people have a greater legal right to weekends off than other workers.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday on an appeal filed by Gerald Groff. He is a former Pennsylvania mail carrier who claims that the Postal Service discriminated against him because it refused to let him work on Sundays when he observed the Christian Sabbath. Groff filed a lawsuit after being disciplined repeatedly for failing to show up at a Sunday shift.

In recent years, the court has expanded religious rights, and often sided with Christian plaintiffs, thanks to its conservative majority of 6-3. Groff’s ruling could make it more difficult for employers to deny employees religious accommodations.

Alan Reinach said that the whole purpose of religious accommodations is to create a more inclusive workplace.


Michael Harper, a Boston University School of Law expert in employment law, said that Groff’s ruling could “give preference to the religious since they get to remain at home on their Sabbath day or rest” which would be denied non-religious people.

Harper said, “Anytime you depart from neutral standard it can create greater friction at work.”

The unions that represent postal workers have urged the Supreme Court of Canada to consider carefully the impact on other employees of religious accommodations made for certain employees.

“A day off does not belong to the religious.” The American Postal Workers Union stated that “days off are a time when parents spend the day with their children who would otherwise be in school. It is also a time when people have the opportunity to spend more quality family time.

Groff’s lawsuit centers around a federal antidiscrimination act called Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, gender, and nationality.

Title VII requires employers to accommodate a worker’s religious practices or observances unless it would result in “undue burden” for the business. The Supreme Court determined that “undue difficulty” was anything that imposed more than minor costs, or a “de minimis cost”, as the case of Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, a 1977 Supreme Court decision.

Groff’s lawyers have asked the Supreme Court overturn Hardison and require companies show “significant difficulty or expenditure” before they deny an accommodation.

The Supreme Court heard from groups representing religions in the United States that are minorities, including Islam and Judaism. They said that the Hardison Standard has affected them disproportionately and that it should be revised.

In a short, the Muslim Public Affairs Council stated that “by allowing employers to deny employees religious freedom for virtually any reason, Hardison is forcing devout workers to make a daily decision between their religion and their livelihood.”

The administration of President Joe Biden, who represented the Postal Service in the Supreme Court, told them that there was no need to reverse Hardison, because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces Title VII and many lower courts, have already interpreted this ruling as providing substantial protection to religious employees.

James Phillips is a professor of law at Chapman University, in California. He said that a “strong” majority or even all justices might side with Groff.

Phillips stated that this case may be one where the right is aligned with the left in terms of religious freedom.

Sunday Delivery

Groff was a “rural carriers associate” for the towns of Quarryville, and Holtwood, in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. He filled in when needed, even on weekends, for career carriers who were absent. In 2013, the Postal Service contracted with in order to stay profitable. This included Sunday deliveries.

Groff did not report to his Sunday shifts. Groff was accommodated by Postal officials who tried to arrange a shift swap, but they were not always successful. Postal Service stated that his absences created tension between other carriers who were required to cover Groff’s shifts. Groff was issued several disciplinary notices and resigned from the Postal Service in 2019.

Groff stated in a written statement by his attorneys that he hoped the Supreme Court would reaffirm our nation’s commitment towards equal opportunities and fair treatment at work.

Caroline Mala Corbin of the University of Miami School of Law, who is an expert in law and religious issues, stated that the case, while it could be beneficial for minorities to fully participate in employment, could also cause clashes with secular and religious values, or LGBT rights.

Corbin explained that a conservative Christian worker might be better off seeking religious accommodation if they refuse to use the preferred pronoun of a transgender colleague.

Corbin expressed concern that the Supreme Court would use the case to reinforce its prioritization of religion above other, equally important interests. This could be to the detriment to vulnerable groups.

By the end of June, a ruling must be made.