On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court held in favor of an evangelical Christian postal worker and established a higher standard that employers must follow when responding to a religious accommodation request. In Groff v. Dejoy, the Court ruled unanimously that the prior standard – the “de minimis standard” – was insufficient under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and instead introduced the “substantial increased costs” standard.
The Prior “De Minimis Cost” Standard
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act generally requires employers to grant religious accommodations unless they pose an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” In 1977, in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, the Supreme Court evaluated whether accommodating a religious accommodation request would constitute an “undue hardship” by considering whether it would impose anything more than a de minimis cost. That “de minimis cost” standard has now been rejected, and employers who deny a religious accommodation request must show that providing the accommodation would have “result[ed] in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct” of the employer’s business.
The Groff v. Dejoy Ruling
In Groff, the religious postal worker was required to work Sundays despite asserting that Sundays were his day of rest and worship. In the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Postal Service overcame Groff’s arguments by arguing that Groff’s rural and leanly-staffed post office could not accommodate Groff’s accommodation request because by doing so, it would “place a great strain on the Holtwood Post Office personnel” and that “other carriers [would be] forced to cover Groff’s shifts and give up their family time [and] their ability to attend church services if they would have liked to.” Though the Third Circuit was persuaded, the Supreme Court was not. Writing in concurrence, Justice Sotomayor noted that the burdens on employers’ other employees could potentially constitute an undue hardship if they were significant enough.
What Does the New Religious Accommodation Standard Mean for Employers?
In a nutshell, employers need to carefully analyze future religious accommodation requests to determine whether such an accommodation would “result in substantial increased costs” to their businesses. It is no longer sufficient to cite moderate costs or inconveniences. In addition, employers must remember that this new accommodation standard applies equally to all sincerely held religious beliefs. Thus, all religious accommodation requests must be fairly considered to ensure compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This decision by the Supreme Court upends decades of case law interpreting and applying the religious accommodation standard under Title VII, and it will take many years of test cases to re-develop the law.
Clyde Snow’s Labor & Employment Group will continue to monitor developments with respect to this decision and advise as to best practices. For more information or any questions regarding religious accommodations or any other employment matters, you may contact Trent Lowe at firstname.lastname@example.org or (801) 433-2419.