SCOTUS sides with mail carrier in religious freedom case

  • Gerald Groff believed USPS could not force him to work Sundays
  • SCOTUS win makes it easier for employees to seek religious accommodations
  • Groff: "All nine justices found that religious freedom is important"

WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — U.S. Supreme Court justices unanimously sided with a former Pennsylvania mail carrier earlier this week who refused to work on Sundays because of his faith.

Gerald Groff, the former mail carrier, did not believe the U.S. Postal Service could make him deliver packages on Sundays, a day that he uses to attend church and practice his faith.

For years, he delivered mail and all manner of packages: a car bumper, a mini refrigerator, a 70-pound box of horseshoes for a blacksmith. But when an contract with the United States Postal Service required carriers to start delivering packages on Sundays, Groff balked. A Christian, he told his employers that he couldn’t deliver packages on the Lord’s Day.

On Thursday, Groff won a unanimous victory at the Supreme Court in a decision that makes it easier for employees to seek religious accommodations. 

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote that businesses must provide an accommodation unless it would impose “substantial increased costs.”

“We think it is enough to say that an employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business,” Alito wrote.

Groff told NewsNation host Adrienne Bankert on “Morning in America” that the decision was a terrific moment for religious freedom in America.

“I especially appreciate it was a unanimous decision. That all nine justices, both liberal and conservative, found that religious freedom is important, and we want to affirm that in America,” Groff said.

The decision clarifies a decades-old precedent that governed when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires businesses to accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs.

“We have a standard in place now that says that employers need to come to the table and do what we would have all in America wanted to happen in the first place, which is try to accommodate the people around us and make things work,” Groff’s lawyer, Chief Counsel Randall Wenger, said. “And I can’t think of a better person to make this work for than Gerald Graff because he was willing to do everything possible for the people he worked with.”

When he still worked with the post office, Groff told his supervisor he’d work extra shifts and holidays to avoid Sundays. The supervisor tried to find other carriers for Groff’s Sunday shifts, even though finding substitutes was time-consuming and not always possible.

Groff’s absences, meanwhile, created a tense environment, led to resentment toward management and contributed to morale problems, officials said. It also meant other carriers had to work more Sundays or sometimes deliver more Sunday mail than they otherwise would. One carrier transferred and another resigned in part because of the situation, Groff’s supervisor said.

Eventually, Groff missed so many Sundays that he was disciplined. He resigned in 2019 rather than wait to be fired, he said, and then filed a religious discrimination lawsuit.

Back in April, his attorney said the court should revisit a 50-year-old precedent, establishing a test to determine when employers should make accommodations for religious reasons.

Despite the SCOTUS ruling, Groff’s legal fight is far from over. He and his legal team return to the lower courts to continue his fight against the post office. USPS said it believes it will ultimately win this case, but Wenger said the company is wrong in believing that.

“It looks like the post office would like a long-term battle,” Wenger said. “And if they want that, that’s what they can have. But I’m thrilled with the victory and changing the standard because that’s not only going to be able to help Gerald to be able to win this case, but it’s going to help millions of other Americans in the workplace.”

The Associated Press and The Hill contributed to this report.


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