Supreme Court Clarifies and Changes the Religious Accommodation Standard Under Title VII | Practical Law

Supreme Court Clarifies and Changes the Religious Accommodation Standard Under Title VII | Practical Law

In Groff v. DeJoy, the US Supreme Court clarified and changed the religious accommodation standard under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that employers and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission relied on for more than 46 years.

Supreme Court Clarifies and Changes the Religious Accommodation Standard Under Title VII

by Practical Law Labor & Employment
Law stated as of 03 Jul 2023USA (National/Federal)
In Groff v. DeJoy, the US Supreme Court clarified and changed the religious accommodation standard under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that employers and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission relied on for more than 46 years.
On June 29, 2023, in Groff v. DeJoy, a unanimous Supreme Court clarified and changed the religious accommodation standard under Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 (Title VII) that employers and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) relied on for more than 46 years by creating a higher standard for employers to measure the burden a worker's religious accommodation request would impose on its business ( (U.S. June 29, 2023)).
After the United States Postal Service (USPS) entered into an agreement to deliver mail on Sundays for Amazon, an Evangelical Christian USPS mail carrier named Gerald Groff sought to be exempted from Sunday work to observe the Sabbath. Groff's Sunday work was redistributed to others, and he received progressive discipline for his insubordination until he resigned in 2019 and sued under Title VII for failing to reasonably accommodate his religion. A majority of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with the USPS, citing the standard established in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, that an employer is not required to make a religious accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship and that undue hardship means any effort or cost that is more than de minimis (432 U.S. 63 (1977)). The Third Circuit concluded that exempting Groff from working on Sunday would burden his coworkers, disrupt the workplace and workflow, and dimmish morale, which would create an undue burden under the de minimis standard.
The Supreme Court:
  • Reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings.
  • Rejected the de minimis standard described in Hardison, and instead "understanding Hardison to mean that 'undue hardship' is shown when a burden is substantial in the overall context of an employer's business" (432 U.S. 63 (1977)).
  • Created a higher standard requiring employers denying a religious accommodation to show that the burden of granting it would result in substantial increased cost in relation to the conduct of its particular business.
  • Declined to incorporate the undue hardship test under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires significant difficulty and expense.
  • Opined that "a good deal of the EEOC's guidance in this area is sensible and will, in all likelihood, be unaffected by the Court's clarifying decision."
  • Advised that courts must apply the test considering all relevant factors in the case at hand, including:
    • the particular accommodation at issue; and
    • their practical impact considering the nature, size, and operating cost of an employer.
The practical implications of Groff are that employers will have to consider all relevant factors of the particular accommodation request to determine whether there is a substantial increased cost in relation to the conduct of its particular business. Employers can no longer deny a religious accommodation request on grounds that it requires cost or effort that is more than de minimis.