On April 18, 2023, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Groff v. DeJoy, a case involving (1) whether an employer can deny an employee a religious accommodation if the accommodation imposes “more than a de minimis cost” on the employer, and (2) whether an employer can demonstrate “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business” by showing that a requested religious accommodation burdens the employee’s coworkers.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) makes it unlawful for an employer to take an adverse action (i.e. failure to hire, failure to promote, demotion, termination, etc.) against an employee because of the employee’s religious beliefs. Under Title VII, employers must provide religious accommodations unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” Under current law, an employer can demonstrate an undue hardship by showing that the accommodations would inflict “more than a de minimis cost” on the employer.
Gerald Groff (“Groff”) is a former United States Postal Service (“USPS”) employee whose religious beliefs dictated that he did not perform work on Sundays. To accommodate him, USPS attempted to find other employees to switch shifts with Groff. However, USPS was unable to find an employee to swap shifts with Groff.
In determining whether Groff was unlawfully denied an accommodation, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that the USPS’s attempt to find employees to swap shifts with Groff did not constitute a reasonable accommodation under the law. However, the Circuit court also recognized that Groff’s proposed accommodation (being exempted from Sunday work) caused and would continue to cause an undue hardship on the USPS. Indeed, in finding that Groff being exempt from Sunday work would cause an undue hardship on USPS, the Circuit court held that Groff’s proposed accommodation 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[.]”
The Supreme Court’s anticipated decision in Groff may be significant. Indeed, the Court may weigh into whether the de minimis cost standard applied to an undue hardship analysis is appropriate or if a more exacting “significant difficulty or expense” test should be applied. The Solicitor General who argued on behalf of the USPS stated that “de minimis” has been held to be interchangeable with “substantial cost,” so there may be an opportunity for the Court to clarify the meaning of “de minimis” without upending long-standing precedent. Also, there is a consensus amongst the parties that an undue hardship inquiry is fact dependent, meaning that the facts of each case dictate whether an employer has experienced “de minimis cost,” “substantial cost” or “significant difficulty or expense,” depending on the standard the Court determines is appropriate. Therefore, the Court may offer some guidance on how the standard applicable to an undue hardship analysis applies differently to employers of different sizes and financial means. For example, an employee taking one day off a week because of his religious beliefs may cause an undue hardship on a rural post office but likely would not cause any hardship on Amazon, which could easily find other employees to cover for their religious coworker.
As noted above, the Circuit court held that Groff’s proposed accommodation caused an undue hardship on USPS because it resulted in “more than a de minimis cost on USPS because it actually imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale[.]” The Supreme Court could find that impact on coworkers cannot constitute an undue hardship until a coworker quits because of circumstances related to an accommodation provided to a religious employee. Of course, such a holding would likely make it more difficult for employers to defeat religious accommodation claims and have practical implications for employers in managing their businesses and employees required to adjust to scheduling modifications or other changes to their employment related to a provided accommodation.
If you have been terminated as part of a layoff and believe that your employer has discriminated against you by failing to provide you with an accommodation, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to understand your rights and whether you can pursue any claims. To schedule a free consultation with our attorneys and to learn more about your legal rights, call our offices today at (877) 247-4292 or (212) 983-9330 or send an email to email@example.com.
About Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP
Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP focuses on complex civil litigation, including securities, antitrust, wage and hour and consumer class actions as well as shareholder derivative and merger and transactional litigation. The firm is headquartered in New York, and maintains offices in California, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Since its founding in 1995, Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP has served as lead or co-lead counsel in numerous high-profile cases which ultimately provided significant recoveries to investors, direct purchasers, consumers and employees.
To schedule a free consultation with our attorneys and to learn more about your legal rights, call our offices today at (877) 247-4292 or (212) 983-9330.
About Taylor Crabill
Taylor Crabill's practice is focused on employment litigation. Mr. Crabill is an Associate in the firm's New York Office.
Associate at Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP
New York office
Tel: (212) 983-9330
Fax: (212) 983-9331