American Jewish Committee (AJC) is calling on the US Supreme Court to restore workplace accommodations for Jewish employees observing Shabbat and other minority faith sabbath observances.
The advocacy organization has joined forces with religious liberty scholars Asma T. Uddin and Steven Collis in filing an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to support employee rights to seek accommodations for their sabbath days, including Orthodox Jews for Shabbat.
The case, Gerald Groff v. Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General, involves a former postal worker who claimed he was compelled to resign because the United States Postal Service (USPS) denied his requests as an evangelical Christian to not work on Sundays.
The USPS, citing a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision, maintained that it did not have to offer religious accommodation if it would cause an “undue hardship” on coworkers.
The amicus brief argues that lower court decisions favoring the USPS have had a deleterious impact not only on Groff, but on Americans who observe the Sabbath on Saturdays, including observant Jews, along with adherents of other faiths who may seek religious accommodations at their places of work.
The brief calls on the Supreme Court to reverse the judgment of the appellate court, overrule the interpretation of “undue hardship,” and remand the case for consideration under a more robust definition of that standard.
“For too long debates over the standard declared in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison [in 1977] ignored the chilling effect the decision has had on victims of religious discrimination,” the brief said. The decision “has allowed employers to escape liability and avoid any need to accommodate even the most modest needs of their religious employees, discouraging those employees from bringing claims” under Title VII, which Congress amended in 1972 to protect religious employees who observe Shabbat as well as other religious minorities.
The brief noted that, contrary to established law, religious discrimination remains a feature of the American workplace, and that Americans who observe the Sabbath on Saturday, including Jews observing Shabbat, have accounted for half of all victims of religious discrimination cases. “In a culture where the dominant position is that anything goes on Saturdays, these Saturday Sabbatarians often require accommodations from their employers to avoid working on their Sabbath,” the brief said.
AJC noted that “members of minority religions are especially harmed by the interpretation of the Hardison standard that allows an employer to establish undue hardship by even the most minimal burden (including grumbling) on the victim’s coworkers.”
According to them, members of minority faiths, including Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Seventh Day Adventists and others, who comprise between 5 and 6 percent of the US population, bring over 65 percent of religious accommodation claims in courts.
“Given widespread bias against minority faiths, including antisemitism, the current weak standard often amounts to a heckler’s veto of accommodation by bigots,” AJC said.
The brief argued that providing greater protections for religious minorities will not harm American businesses, that on the contrary increased religious accommodations will benefit both employees and employers.