Pressure rises to reconsider decades-old ruling on religion at work

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Petitions of the week
A courier drops off a package at the Supreme Court

The Petitions of the Week column highlights a selection of cert petitions recently filed in the Supreme Court. A list of all petitions we’re watching is available here.

In the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, Congress strengthened the religious protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by requiring employers to accommodate all aspects of their employees’ religious beliefs and practices, unless doing so would impose “undue hardship” on the business. Five years later, the court stated in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison that an employer suffers undue hardship if accommodating an employee’s religion would require “more than a de minimis cost.” This week, we highlight cert petitions that ask the court to consider, among other things, whether to revisit Hardison’s more-than-de-minimis-cost test.

Gerald Groff worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Pennsylvania. An Evangelical Christian, Groff observes a Sunday Sabbath. When USPS signed an agreement with Amazon in 2013 to deliver packages on Sundays and holidays, Groff was initially able to avoid working Sundays by picking up extra shifts during the week – and eventually transferring to another post office. But as demand for deliveries increased, the accommodations wore thin. Groff soon received multiple disciplinary actions for refusing to work on Sundays.

Facing termination, Groff chose to resign, and sued USPS in federal court for refusing to accommodate his religious beliefs and practices under Title VII. The trial court ruled for the Postal Service under Hardison, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed. Exempting Groff from work on Sundays imposed a more than de minimis cost on USPS, the appeals court held, because it forced his coworkers to pick up more than their share of Sunday shifts – at the expense of their own religious observance or family time – and weakened workplace morale at the post office.

In Groff v. DeJoy, Groff asks the justices to dispose of Hardison’s more-than-de-minimis-cost test. Inconvenience to coworkers does not qualify as a business cost to USPS, Groff reasons. But even if it does, he argues, an undue hardship means a significant burden, while his inability to work on Sundays imposes only a minor hurdle. Other petitions have asked the court to jettison Hardison’s test in recent years, and although the court has yet to take up the issue, at least three justices have indicated their interest in doing so.

A list of this week’s featured petitions is below:

Weisfeld v. Scott
22-149
Issue: Whether, in a suit seeking prospective relief relating to the enforcement of particular provisions of Texas’s election law, Texas’s chief election officer may invoke sovereign immunity solely because local officials carry out those provisions day-to-day, or whether a state official’s authority over enforcement of the entire statutory scheme is sufficient to trigger Ex parte Young’s exception to state sovereign immunity.

Fair v. Continental Resources
22-160
Issues: (1) Whether the government violates the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause when it confiscates property worth more than the debt owed by the owner; and (2) whether the forfeiture of far more property than needed to satisfy a delinquent tax debt, plus interest, penalties, and costs, constitutes an excessive fine within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.

Moses v. United States
22-163
Issues: (1) Whether the limits on agency deference announced in Kisor v. Wilkie constrain the deference that courts may accord to interpretive or explanatory commentary in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual; and (2) whether deference to the Guidelines commentary is impermissible in any form.

Van Linn v. Wisconsin
22-167
Issue: Whether a court seeking to determine if a source of evidence is “genuinely independent” for purposes of the “independent source” exception to the exclusionary rule must ask whether the actual officers involved would have sought the relevant evidence had the unlawful search never taken place, or instead may ask only whether a hypothetical reasonable officer would have sought the relevant evidence had the unlawful search never taken place.

Swisher International, Inc. v. Trendsettah USA, Inc.
22-172
[Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to SCOTUSblog in various capacities, is among counsel to respondent in this case.]
Issue: Whether an appellate court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and Article III of the Constitution when a plaintiff voluntarily dismisses its claims with prejudice in order to obtain review of an interlocutory ruling.

Groff v. DeJoy
22-174
Issues: (1) Whether the court should disapprove the more-than-de-minimis-cost test for refusing religious accommodations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stated in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison; and (2) 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.



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