Do you have a legal right to not work on Sunday?

Apr 18, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: Apr 20, 2023, 2:39 pm

Gerald Groff, a former postal worker whose case will be argued before the Supreme Court, stands dur...

Gerald Groff, a former postal worker whose case will be argued before the Supreme Court, stands during a television interview near a "Now Hiring" sign posted at the roadside at the United State Postal Service, Wednesday, March 8, 2023, in Quarryville, Pa. (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

(Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The question before the U.S. Supreme Court this morning was “Do you have a legal right to not work on Sunday?” Can you force your employer to accommodate your religious beliefs and not require you to work on Sunday?

Oral arguments concluded just after 10 a.m. in Utah in the case of Groff v. DeJoy. Here’s the story: Gerald Groff worked for the postal service. The problem began in 2013 when the USPS entered into a contract with Amazon to deliver packages on Sundays. Groff, an evangelical Christian, did not want to work on Sundays. He refused to do so, was reprimanded, and eventually resigned.

The lawsuit

Groff sued the post office in federal court, arguing that its failure to accommodate his religious practice was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. A federal district judge rejected that argument. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

This brings us to this morning. Groff’s lawyer argued that requiring an employer to pay $1 more an hour cannot meet the “undue hardship” test. That test was set out in the 46-year-old case of TWA v. Hardison. There the high court said that whenever an accommodation would require more than a “de minimis cost“, it constitutes an undue hardship. If it qualifies, the employer is not required to accommodate an employee’s religious practice.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued that the additional expense of paying another employee to cover the Sunday shifts is not the only consideration. In this case, there was an issue with employee morale and the organization as a whole. There was a threat of an employee walkout on Sundays in this case. That, Prelogar argued, constitutes an undue hardship.

“How can $1 be an undue hardship?”

Both Justices Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett pushed Prelogar on the money issue.

“How can you consider $1 an hour more an undue hardship for a company as large as Amazon or Walmart?” Justice Alito questioned.

Prelogar repeated that regularly paying overtime, along with regularly operating shorthanded and other issues, is what the undue hardship test was created for.

The Solicitor General told the justices to look at the situations where employees request religious accommodations as coming in three buckets. The first bucket involves requests for time off to observe the sabbath or prayer. The second bucket involves flexibility, where possible, with the religious dress. The third involves allowing the display of religious symbols in some locations. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, and Alito seemed to appreciate the bucket synopsis and asked to follow up questions on those points.

Counsel for Groff was not impressed. “We’ve heard a lot about buckets today, but not a lot about the plain meaning of the statute,” referring to Title VII.

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Do you have a legal right to not work on Sunday?