Last Tuesday, the US Supreme Court (“the Court”) heard oral argument in Groff v. DeJoy (“Groff”), a case in which the Court is considering whether to overturn decades of precedent established in the 1977 case of TWA v. Hardison (“Hardison”). Hardison established that an employer is not obligated to accommodate an employee’s religion if the accommodation would create more than a “de minimis” burden on the employer’s operations, or an “undue hardship.” We previously published a news article on Groff, which you can read for a summary of the facts.
Issues Before the Court
Two main issues were presented before the Court:
- Whether the Court should reject the more-than-de-minimis-cost test for refusing religious accommodations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”) stated in Hardison; and
- Whether an employer may demonstrate “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business” under Title VII merely by showing that the requested accommodation burdens the employee’s coworkers rather than the business itself.
Petitioner Gerald Groff’s counsel argued that Hardison’s de minimis standard “violates [Title VII’s] promise that employees should not be forced to choose between their faith and their job,” and “makes a mockery of the English language” because it cannot be squared with the term “undue hardship.” He argued that “undue hardship” should be construed according to its plain text to mean “significant difficulty or expense.”
On behalf of the respondent, the Solicitor General argued that in defining “undue hardship,” Hardison used the term “de minimis” interchangeably with “substantial cost,” and that it needed to be understood in the context of the facts of that case. Ultimately, she argued that the Court should uphold Hardison so as not to disrupt almost 50 years of decisions and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance, upon which employers and courts have relied.
Takeaways for Employers
It is expected that the Court will make its decision in the summer. In the meantime, employers covered by Title VII are encouraged to review their employee handbooks to ensure there are policies that address religious accommodations. Additionally, employers should review their company job descriptions to ensure that the descriptions include all essential job functions that may factor into religious accommodations.
MNK Law will continue to monitor developments related to the Groff case. For more information on Title VII and religious accommodations, please contact us at email@example.com.
This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between MNK Law and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material.