Gerald Groff was a Pennsylvania mailman. When Amazon contracted with the United States Postal Service (USPS) to deliver packages on Sundays, Mr. Groff, who observes Sunday as the Sabbath, was faced with a religious dilemma. Mr. Groff attempted to make arrangements with the USPS to avoid working Sundays by offering to work multiple make-up shifts and even by switching postal offices, but the Postal Service deemed this insufficient and multiple disciplinary actions were taken against him. Facing termination Mr. Groff chose, instead, to resign from the USPS.
Following his resignation, Mr. Groff sued the USPS for failing to accommodate his sincerely held religious beliefs. However, he was unsuccessful as both the trial court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against him. They did so on the basis that his absence on Sunday caused an “undue burden” to the USPS because his coworkers would have to work extra shifts on Sunday to make up for his being off. This, they said, would weaken workplace morale and would come at the expense of the coworkers’ religious observance or family time.
The courts’ ruling is based off an earlier Supreme Court ruling in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, in which the Court loosely defined “undue burden” as “more than de minimis cost,” meaning more than a “trivial burden.”
Agudath Israel of America joined other Orthodox Jewish organizations that filed an amicus curiae “friend of the court” brief under the auspices of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA). In the brief, written by noted constitutional scholar Nat Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, COLPA asked the Supreme Court to protect the rights of Sabbath observers in this case, Groff v. DeJoy.
Mr. Lewin’s brief requested the Court overturn its previous ruling in the Hardison case, stating that “changes in American society and in the understanding of the Establishment Clause justify rejection and repudiation today of a legal rule that perpetrates great injustice and harm on Sunday observing Christians like petitioner and on Jewish, Moslem, and Seventh-Day Adventist members of America’s work force.” The brief also notes that because of Hardison, religious employees have a harder time receiving legal accommodation than those who need accommodation on the basis of age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy, and paternity.
“The history of American Jewry cannot be told without marking the struggle for Sabbath observance,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president. “Due to Hardison, countless people have given up or even lost employment opportunities for jobs for which they were eminently qualified. Most of these cases were not even litigated because of the high bar set by Hardison. We urge the Supreme Court to rectify this and protect the religious liberties of Americans in the workforce.”