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The Supreme Court granted certiorari Friday in the case of an evangelical Christian postal worker who says that his religious freedom was violated when he was forced to surrender his job as the only means of avoiding delivering Amazon packages on weekends.
Gerald E. Groff, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for several years in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is an evangelical Christian and Sunday Sabbath observer. Groff began working with USPS in 2o12, a year before it began contracting with Amazon for package delivery. As a result of the contract, USPS postal workers were expected to take on Sunday shifts to accommodate weekend deliveries.
Groff, like other USPS workers, was bound by a collective-bargaining agreement that required him to work at least some Sunday shifts. However, because the shifts conflicted with Groff’s religious practice, he requested reassignment to another post office branch that did not participate in Sunday deliveries. Later, that branch also began to offer Sunday deliveries.
At first, Groff was permitted by his supervisor to find his own substitute coverage on Sundays. However, Groff was erratic in doing so, and missed over two dozen assigned Sunday shifts.
In 2019, Groff became aware that he was facing termination and resigned from his job. Shortly thereafter, Groff, represented by conservative advocacy group First Liberty Institute, Baker Botts LLP, the Church State Council, and the Independence Law Center, filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the Postal Service illegally discriminated against him by failing to provide an appropriate accommodation for his religious observance.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of USPS. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl, a Barack Obama appointee, said Groff had been treated the same as other employees and that Sunday service was necessary to the Postal Service’s business
Groff appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. U.S. Circuit Judge Patty Schwartz, also an Obama appointee, penned the opinion in which the appellate court sided again with USPS.
“No American should be forced to choose between their religion and their job,” Groff’s lawyers argued. Groff’s team is urging the Supreme Court not only to rule in their client’s favor, but also to use his case as a vehicle to overrule TWA v. Hardison, the case upon which the lower courts based their decision.
The Hardison ruling said that employers need not offer religious accommodation if doing so would cause an “undue hardship” on an employer.
“It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion,” said Kelly Shackelford, Chief Counsel for First Liberty said in a statement. “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.”
“Observing the Sabbath day is critical to many faiths—a day ordained by God. No one should be forced to violate the Sabbath to hold a job,” added Randall Wenger of the Independence Law Center.
Groff’s case will be added to the Court’s oral argument calendar for the coming term and will proceed before several justices who have vocally supported an expansion of religious liberty rights. Chief among them stand Justices Samuel Alito (who spoke publicly last summer that religion is “under attack” in the United States), Neil Gorsuch (who formally overruled a longstanding case relating to the Establishment Clause), and Chief Justice John Roberts (who ruled that Maine must pay subsidize tuition at some religious schools), each of whom has penned a recent decision in favor of a religious liberty petitioner.
The named respondent in Groff v. DeJoy is Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Donald Trump appointee who remains in office under Joe Biden.
Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled in the case.
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