Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (“Orthodox Union”) – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – applauded a 9-0 ruling by the United States Supreme Court strengthening the rights of religious employees in their workplaces to receive accommodations for their religious needs from their employers.
The unanimous ruling is in the case of Groff v. DeJoy and the majority opinion was authored by Justice Alito. Justices Sotomayor and Jackson filed a concurring opinion. The Orthodox Union filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case which was quoted in the majority opinion.
Gerald Groff is a devout Christian who worked for the U.S. Postal Service. Groff requested not to be assigned work shifts on Sundays to observe the Sabbath and was refused. He lost in the lower federal courts due to a decades-old Supreme Court precedent that eviscerated the legal requirement for employers to accommodate the religious needs of their employees.
In the ruling issued today, the Supreme Court clarified a precedent from 1977 – TWA v. Hardison – which had been misinterpreted by lower courts and often functionally allowed employers to refuse to accommodate employees’ requests for religious accommodations. The 1977 ruling interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to only require employers to provide such accommodations when doing so would not impose anything more than a “de minimis” expense on the employer, thus enabling employers to almost always refuse to accommodate their workers.
Today, the Supreme Court clarified that courts – and employers – should understand that Title VII’s standard of “undue hardship” does not mean de minimis. Lower courts incorrectly “latched on to de minimis as the governing standard.” Today’s ruling states that “undue hardship is very different from de minimis” and that an employer even “showing more than de minimis cost” in providing religious accommodation “does not suffice to establish undue hardship.”
Nathan Diament – a co-author of the brief and the Orthodox Union’s Executive Director for Public Policy – stated:
“For decades, ever since the Supreme Court issued its terrible ruling in the Hardison case, the Orthodox Union advocated for that ruling to be reversed or revised. Forcing American Jews (or Americans of any faith) to choose between their career and their conscience is fundamentally at odds with the principle of religious freedom that is the foundation of the United States and our Constitution. We regret that it has taken so long, but we are grateful that the Supreme Court has finally righted the wrong of Hardison and has reinstated the full right of religious accommodation in the workplace.”
Mitchel Aeder, President of the Orthodox Union, stated:
“A core mission of the Orthodox Union is to advocate for the strongest legal protections for religious freedom – for Orthodox Jews and all Americans of faith. Members of our community require accommodations for Sabbath and holiday observance, times to pray, the ability to keep kosher, and the like. Such accommodations enable us to be not only faithful Jews but productive workers and members of American society. That is why the Orthodox Union advocated to the Court in support of Mr. Groff and why we welcome this landmark ruling.”
The Orthodox Union’s “friend of the court” brief was co-authored by Eric Rassbach and Prof. Michael Helfand (together with law students) of Pepperdine University Law School’s religious liberty clinic and Orthodox Union Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament.
The brief filed in the case by the Orthodox Union can be read here.