News & Insights

Supreme Court Clarifies Standard For Religious Accommodations

On June 29, 2023, the United States Supreme Court unanimously adopted a new “undue hardship” standard for religious accommodations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”). The decision came in Groff v. DeJoy, No. 22-174 (June 29, 2023), which concerned an Evangelical Christian postal worker who opposed working on Sundays due to his sabbath observance. Although the US Postal Service (“USPS”) attempted to accommodate Groff’s requests, it could not always find coverage for Groff’s Sunday shifts, and he was disciplined when he was scheduled to work on Sundays but refused.  Groff ultimately resigned over the issue and sued USPS.

The US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sided with USPS, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.  Both Courts applied the prior standard offered by Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977), which required employers to demonstrate that the requested accommodation was an undue hardship by showing that the accommodation would require more than a de minimus cost.  The District Court and Third Circuit Court of Appeals both found that the “more than a de minimus cost” threshold was met because Goff’s requested accommodation imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale. 

The Supreme Court disagreed and determined the “more than a de minimus” threshold should no longer apply.  The Court held that that the undue hardship standard only applies when granting an accommodation would result in “substantial increased costs.” This new threshold is fact specific, and requires the requested accommodation be viewed in the context of the employer’s size, operating cost, and nature of business. 

The Court clarified that forcing employees to work overtime to cover the accommodation would not be sufficient to constitute an undue hardship.  Further, an undue hardship does not exist due to the imposition on the employer to manage co-worker animosity toward the accommodated religion. 

We expect the issue of religious accommodations to be further developed under the new “substantial increased costs” threshold for the undue burden standard.  The Court’s decision in Goff makes it clear that employers can no longer rely on some additional costs solely constituting an undue burden under Title VII.