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USA News

Mail carrier who refuses to work on Sundays takes religious bias case to US Supreme Court

by Tola Mbakwe

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by a former mail carrier who has accused the US Postal Service (USPS) of religious bias after being reprimanded for refusing to deliver packages on Sundays.

Gerald Groff, an evangelical Christian, has claimed that USPS violated federal anti-discrimination laws by refusing to exempt him from working on Sundays, which is when he observes the Sabbath.

Part of Groff's job in Holtwood, Pennsylvania required him to fill in as needed for absent mail carriers. However, there were many occasions he didn’t show up for Sunday shifts assigned as part of his work contract to deliver packages.

Postal officials tried to accommodate Groff by allowing him to swap Sunday shifts, but the effort was not always successful.

According to court documents, his absences led to resentment among his colleagues who had to cover his shifts. It eventually led one mail carrier to leave the Holtwood branch and another to quit the Postal Service altogether. Groff resigned in 2019 after receiving numerous disciplinary letters.

Lower courts have already dismissed his claim on the basis that his demands placed too much hardship on his co-workers and employer.

The case gives the US Supreme Court which currently has a 6-3 conservative majority, another opportunity to back a plaintiff who has made a claim of anti-religion discrimination. The case is expected to be argued in the coming months and decided by the end of June.

Groff’s appeal tests the religious freedoms that US companies must give to employees. They are required to abide by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans employment discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, and national origin. Under the law, employers must reasonably accommodate a worker's religious observance or practices unless that would cause the business "undue hardship."

John Bursch, senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy at Christian legal organisation ADF International said:  “Federal law protects employees’ ability to live and work according to their religious beliefs. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious practice unless doing so imposes undue hardships on their operations. But for too long that duty has been erased by a misguided court ruling, which the nation’s high court now has an opportunity to overrule. We urge the Supreme Court to affirm that Title VII protects all Americans’ right to live and work according to their faith.”

In similar cases over the past three years, conservative justices cast doubt on the 1977 ruling which determined that undue hardship is anything that imposes more than a minor cost.

The Supreme Court has taken an expansive view of religious liberties in a number of important cases in recent years.

Last year, the court handed down a ruling that backed more public funding of religious entities in a case involving two Christian families who challenged a tuition assistance program that excluded private religious schools.

Groff's legal team is being led by Christian legal organisation, First Liberty Institute.

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