Supreme Court hears case of Christian mail worker who refuses to work on Sundays

Published: Apr. 18, 2023 at 7:15 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Christian postal worker Gerald Groff wants the U.S. Supreme Court to require employers to accomodate their workers religious freedom.

On Tuesday, he stood outside the U.S. Supreme Court moments after his lawyers argued his case in front of the conservative-leaning justices. Groff believes his Christian religion should exempt him from Sunday work. But he said the U.S. Postal Service forced him to work.

“It’s important to stand for what you believe and follow it and I hope that the court will stand with us today,” said Groff.

“No American ever should have to choose between their faith and their job,” said Kelly Shackelford, President of First Liberty Institute, who is part of Groff’s legal team in the case of Groff v DeJoy.

Read more on the case of Gerald E. Groff, Petitioner v Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General

Groff said the issue started in 2016 when the Quarryville, Pennsylvania post office began Sunday deliveries for Amazon. Groff transferred to a different office in Holtwood, to avoid the Sunday work. But Holtwood eventually started Sunday deliveries too. Groff said at first he was exempt. But later, he was required to work. So Groff quit in 2019.

“Mr. Groff was willing to work extra shifts on Saturday and holidays and double shifts during the day. So it was not an issue where Mr. Groff was working less and his employers, his coworkers were working more,” said lawyer Aaron Streett of Baker Botts, who also represented Groff.

The Department of Justice, who argued the case for the U.S. Postal Service, said Groff’s request did put a burden on other employees and it was costly for the post office.

“His absences created direct, concrete burdens on other carriers who had to stay on their ships longer to get the mail delivered. That caused problems with the timely delivery of mail and actually produced employee retention problems with one carrier quitting and another carrier transferring and another carrier filing a union grievance. That is an undue hardship,” Elizabeth Prelogar, Solicitor General Counsel of Record for the DOJ, told the Supreme Court.

University of Virginia constitutional law expert, Douglas Laycock, believes it’s a constitutional gray area.

“The judicial standard for the last 40 years has not been what Congress enacted. The standard, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is our main employment discrimination statute says employers cannot discriminate based on religion. Religion includes all aspects of religious belief and practice. If the employer can accommodate the employee’s religious practice without undue hardship to the business. So the question is what counts as an undue hardship?” said Laycock.

Laycock said the 1977 Supreme Court case called Trans World Airlines v. Hardison defined undue hardship as anything that imposes more than a minor cost on a business.

On religion cases, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett are typically part of the courts conservative block. They were among the justices who noted the court could expand the definition. But, they raised concern over issues of morale and potential costs.

“I mean, you might have many religious people in a workplace seeking the same accommodation for Sundays off or other kinds of accommodations. And I guess it seems to me, as Justice Kavanaugh said, morale can be very important,” said Barrett.