Gerald Groff enjoyed his work as a postal employee in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. However, Groff refused when a contract with Amazon.com and the U.S. Postal Service required carriers to begin delivering packages on Sundays. As a Christian, he told his employers he could not deliver packages on the Lord’s Day because of his faith.
After lower courts sided with the Postal Service, saying Groff’s demand for Sundays off caused tension and meant extra work for other employees, his case has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Groff argues that employers can too easily reject employees’ requests for religious accommodations.
“We really can’t go back and change what happened to me,” Groff said. He ultimately quit his job over the Sunday shifts. However, he maintains that other people “shouldn’t have to choose between their job and their faith.”
Groff’s case centers on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination in employment. According to the law, employers must accommodate employees’ spiritual practices unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” for the business.
To avoid working Sundays, Groff gave up his seniority at the post office located in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. He then transferred to a smaller office nearby Holtwood, which wasn’t doing Sunday deliveries. However, that eventually changed, and Sunday deliveries were also required there.
Groff told his supervisors he would work holidays and extra shifts to avoid Sundays. Officials say they worked to find substitutes, although it was time-consuming and only sometimes possible. His absences created a tense work environment and led to resentment at management, contributing to morale problems, said officials. Groff’s supervisor maintains that one carrier transferred and another resigned because of the situation.
He resigned in 2019 instead of waiting to be fired and then fired a religious discrimination lawsuit.
Groff asks Supreme Court to say employers must show “significant difficulty or expense”
Groff wants the Supreme Court to rule that employers must show “significant difficulty or expense” to reject an employee’s religious accommodation.
Lawyers with the Biden administration, representing the Postal Service, maintain that accommodating an employee’s religious practices negatively impacts other employees and can be considered an undue hardship on a business.
Groff may have the upper hand. Recently, the court’s conservative majority has remained sympathetic to the concerns of religious plaintiffs. Three current justices — Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas — have stated the court should reconsider.
Last year, the court sided with a football coach at a public high school who wanted to kneel and pray on the field after games.
For his part, Groff found other work since leaving the Postal Service. Currently, he is the postmaster for a retirement community of several thousand residents. He oversees a staff comprised of volunteer residents that sort through mail and put them in mailboxes every day but Sunday.