- About Us
- Legislative Center
- Contact Us
Supreme Court Sides with USPS Rural Letter Carrier
By Bob Levi
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous 9-0 decision, sent back to the lower courts the case of whether the USPS violated the law by not accommodating a Sabbath observer who failed to show up for work on Sundays. The case, Groff v. DeJoy, was discussed with Nick Reaves of the Yale Law School Free Exercise Clinic on the March 10 episode of NAPS Chat, taped shortly before the case was argued before the Supreme Court.
In its June decision, the court revised the standard that lower courts must now use to evaluate whether an employer must accommodate religious practices. (The decision impacts all employers, not just the USPS.) The new criteria must contemplate whether the religious accommodation poses a substantial hardship or an excessive cost in relation to the conduct of a business.
The previous standard was whether an accommodation posed more than a minimum cost or hardship. Consequently, the Supreme Court established a stricter benchmark for employers to use if they refuse to accommodate an employee’s religious practices.
The postal employee, rural letter carrier Gerald Groff, refused to deliver mail on Sundays due to his religious convictions. As a result, Groff received progressive discipline; he eventually resigned from the USPS. Groff sued the USPS, claiming the agency should have accommodated his religious beliefs.
Both the federal district court and the federal court of appeals ruled in favor of the USPS, based on the old standard. In Groff v. USPS, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, remarked, “It would not be enough for an employer to conclude that forcing other employees to work overtime would constitute undue hardship.” The employer should seek other options to accommodate, such as voluntary shift swapping, incentive pay and coordination with nearby post offices that have more staff.
The Supreme Court ended its decision by stating it does not foreclose the possibility the USPS will prevail in the lower courts, but the lower court should use the new standard to evaluate whether or not the USPS complied with the law in failing to accommodate Groff—specifically whether such an accommodation would impose a substantial hardship or excessive cost on USPS operations.