The Supreme Court agreed late on Jan. 13 to take up the civil rights lawsuit of an evangelical Christian postal worker in Pennsylvania who quit the U.S. Postal Service after it refused to accommodate his wish not to work on the Sunday Sabbath.
The granting of the petition in Groff v. DeJoy, court file 22-174, over the opposition of the Biden administration, came as the high court has become increasingly protective of First Amendment-based religious protections in recent years.
The justices gave no reason for their decision. No justices dissented from the ruling.
Gerald Groff began working as a mail carrier for the USPS in 2012. Groff was what is called a rural carrier associate, meaning he filled in for absent career employees.
He worked at the Quarryville, Pennsylvania, post office until he transferred to the Holtwood post office in August 2016. The postal service initially tried to accommodate his request not to work on Sundays, but he quit in 2019 after the agency stopped accommodating him. He sued claiming the postal service discriminated against him by refusing to accommodate his religion under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as The Epoch Times previously reported.
Groff is represented by First Liberty Institute, Baker Botts LLP, the Church State Council, and the Independence Law Center.
“It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion,” Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel for First Liberty said in a statement provided to The Epoch Times.
“It’s time for the Supreme Court to reconsider a decades old case that favors corporations and the government over the religious rights of employees,” he said without elaborating on the earlier precedent.
Attorney Aaron Streett of Baker Botts said, “We are simply asking the Supreme Court to apply the law as written and require employers to grant meaningful religious accommodations to people of faith.”
Lead trial counsel Alan Reinach of the Church State Council added: “Workers have suffered too long with the Supreme Court’s interpretation that disrespects the rights of those with sincere faith commitments to a workplace accommodation. It’s long past time for the Supreme Court to protect workers from religious discrimination.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit turned down Groff’s appeal last year, finding that exempting him from Sunday work, as he had asked, would have imposed an undue hardship on the postal service.
The Biden administration previously urged (pdf) the high court not to review the case.
The court of appeals “correctly applied” legal precedent when it found that Groff’s request to skip Sunday work imposed hardship on his co-workers, “disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale,” U.S Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a brief, quoting the appeals court.
This harmed the USPS because it “made timely delivery more difficult,” she added.
The attorneys general of 17 states signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief Sept. 26 asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.
“It’s a fundamental right of every citizen to freely exercise their religious freedom,” said West Virginia Attorney General Morrisey, a Republican, at the time.
“Many spend most of their time at work and people should not be expected to choose between their jobs and their faith. That’s absurd. No one should be forced to sacrifice their dedication to their religion in order to keep a job.”
Morrisey and the attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia, filed the brief.
Federal lawmakers filed their own friend-of-the-court brief.
Among the lawmakers were Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), along with Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).
The Epoch Times reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice for comment but did not receive an immediate reply.