U.S. Supreme Court asked to revive postal worker's religious bias claim

A U.S. Postal Service (USPS) logo is pictured on a mail box in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
  • Court urged to overturn 1977 ruling on religious accommodations
  • Mail carrier quit after request for Sundays off was refused
  • Appeals court said exemption would burden other workers

(Reuters) - A former U.S. Postal Service mail carrier on Tuesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether he was entitled to take Sundays off to observe the Sabbath, after an appeals court dismissed his case.

Lawyers for Gerald Groff, who was a rural mail carrier in Pennsylvania, filed a petition urging the court to overturn its 1977 ruling that said employers do not have to grant religious accommodations that would impose "more than a de minimis cost."

Over the last two years, conservative Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch all have said that ruling in Trans World Airlines Inc v. Hardison should be revisited.

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The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May said granting Groff an exemption from delivering Amazon packages on Sundays would have placed an undue hardship on USPS by straining the agency's resources and forcing his coworkers to take on more shifts.

Groff's lawyers in Tuesday's petition said the court improperly focused on whether an accommodation would impact other workers, rather than the employer itself.

And the low bar set in Hardison for employers to show that an accommodation would be burdensome infringes on workers' rights to the free exercise of their religious beliefs, they said.

The Postal Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Groff quit his job in 2019 after his supervisors refused to give him a blanket exemption from working on Sundays, according to court filings. He accused USPS of violating federal anti-discrimination law by failing to accommodate his religious practice.

The 3rd Circuit in its May decision, which affirmed a Pennsylvania federal judge's dismissal of the case, said USPS made an effort to accommodate Groff by allowing him to swap shifts with coworkers.

And it was not unreasonable for the agency to require Groff to work when a swap was not possible, because Sunday deliveries for Amazon made up a large share of the workload at the post office where he was based, the court said.

The case is Groff v. DeJoy, U.S. Supreme Court, No. not available.

For Groff: Aaron Streett of Baker Botts; and Kelly Shackelford of the First Liberty Institute

For the Postal Service: Veronica Finkelstein of the U.S. Department of Justice

Read more:

USPS doesn't have to exempt carrier who won't deliver packages on Sunday

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.