Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (“Orthodox Union”) – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – filed a legal brief with the United States Supreme Court urging the high court to strengthen the rights of religious employees in their workplaces to receive accommodations for their religious needs from their employers.
The “friend of the court” brief was filed in the case of Groff v. DeJoy. 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 1972, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to require employers to accommodate employees’ religious needs unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. In the 1977 case of TWA v. Hardison, the Supreme Court ruled that any “de minimis” expense constituted an undue hardship, thus enabling employers to almost always refuse to accommodate their workers.
As the Orthodox Union’s brief explains, this legal landscape has harmed many Orthodox Jews (along with Americans of other faiths) over the years. Orthodox Jews are not permitted to work on Shabbat – which commences at sunset on Friday and concludes after sunset on Saturday; they also may not work on holidays such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Such religious obligations can require adjustments to work schedules, which Orthodox Jews must seek from their employers. Under the Hardison precedent, it has been more difficult for Orthodox Jews’ reasonable requests to be accommodated.
The Orthodox Union brief calls for the high court to overturn TWA v. Hardison, and reinstate what was the real intent of Title VII’s “undue hardship” standard. The brief urges the adoption of the same legal standard for employee accommodations that appears in the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) – that an employer is exempt from providing accommodation if doing so imposes a “significant difficulty or expense” on the business.
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 has advocated having that ruling reversed either by the court or by legislation. Forcing American Jews (or 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 hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule for religious freedom and reinstate 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 filed this legal brief today and urges the court to rule for Mr. Groff.”
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 can be read here.
Oral arguments in Groff v. DeJoy are scheduled for April 18 and the court is expected to issue its ruling in June.