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Important Takeaway: The United States Supreme Court has changed the standard for employers to prove a religious accommodation is an undue hardship from de minimus costs to a substantial increase in costs. This is a higher standard for employers.
Facts: Gerald Groff was a United States postal worker who refused to work Sundays due to his religious beliefs. When the United States Postal Service (USPS) started requiring employees to work Sundays for delivery of Amazon packages, Groff refused to do so. Gross was disciplined for failing to work Sundays on a rotating schedule and eventually resigned. Groff filed suit alleging that the USPS had not provided him with religious accommodations that are required under Title VII.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which governs employment matters, requires employers to provide reasonable religious accommodations for employees unless the accommodation creates an undue hardship on the employer. The Supreme Court held in the past that an employer did not have to provide an accommodation if they could show that the accommodation would create more than a de minimus cost. Prior to this case, that standard had not been changed for 50 years and was the standard relied on by lower courts.
Here, the Court changed this standard to require that the accommodation create a substantial increase in costs for the employer to avoid providing the accommodation rather than just a de minimus cost. The Court further explained that bias or hostility toward a religious practice is not a defense to failure to provide the accommodation. In applying the substantial increase test, whether a hardship would be substantial must be determined in the context of the employer’s business. The courts must look at a variety of factors including the accommodation and the practical impact of the accommodation considering the nature, size, and operating cost of an employer. This determination must be made on a case-by-case basis.
The court declined to determine whether USPS allowing an employee to avoid working all Sundays would create a substantial increase in costs and therefore be an undue burden and left this factual determination up to the lower courts.
What This Means: Employers, including schools, will be required to show that a religious accommodation creates a substantial increase in costs to avoid providing the accommodation to any of its employees. This standard will be evaluated considering the size of the school and operating costs of the school, meaning this standard could change depending on the size and budget of a school district. This is a harder standard to meet than the previous de minimus standard and could mean schools will be required to provide more or different accommodations than before.
Read the case here: Groff v. DeJoy, Postmaster General, Supreme Court of the United States, June 29, 2023. Read it here.
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Megan, Beth, and Kevin at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.