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Supreme Court Ruling Establishes Heightened Standard For Evaluating Requests For Religious Accommodations Under Title VII

The United States Supreme Court recently issued its unanimous decision in Groff v. DeJoy, Postmaster General clarifying the standard for religious accommodations in the workplace.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment based on religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Under Title VII, employers must provide employees with accommodations for their religious practices, unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” for the employer. In a case from almost 50 years ago (Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977)), the Supreme Court analyzed the appropriate method for determining whether a religious accommodation request constitutes an "undue hardship" for an employer. As part of this analysis, the Court opined that to require an employer to bear more than a "de minimis cost" to accommodate a religious accommodation request would amount to an undue hardship. 


Accordingly, for the last fifty years, lower courts have routinely relied upon this standard to justify an employer’s denial of even minor religious accommodations.


In this most recent case, Gerald Groff is an Evangelical Christian who previously worked for the United States Postal Service ("USPS"). In accordance with his religious beliefs, Groff believed that Sundays should be devoted to worship and rest. While his work at USPS initially did not involve Sunday work, that changed once USPS began facilitating Sunday deliveries for Amazon. To avoid the requirement to work on Sundays on a rotating basis, Groff transferred to a rural USPS station that did not make Sunday deliveries. Once Sunday deliveries eventually began at Groff's new station, Groff sought an accommodation to avoid working on Sundays in accordance with his religious beliefs. While USPS redistributed Groff's Sunday deliveries to his colleagues, USPS nevertheless disciplined Groff for failing to work on Sundays before he ultimately resigned. Months later, Groff filed suit under Title VII, asserting that USPS could have accommodated his Sunday Sabbath practice "without undue hardship on the conduct of [USPS's] business."


In Groff, the Supreme Court clarified its analysis in Hardison by concluding that an "undue hardship" is shown when a burden is "substantial in the overall context of an employer's business." The Court then instructed lower courts to hereafter apply this test on a case-by-case basis in a manner that takes into account "all relevant factors," including the particular accommodations at issue and their practical impact in light of the nature, size, and operating cost of the employer. In a nod to employers seeking to apply this new test in the workplace, the Court cautioned that not all impacts on coworkers are relevant. Notably, a colleague's mere dislike of religious practice and expression in the workplace, or the mere fact of an accommodation, cannot be a factor in the undue hardship inquiry. Additionally, a hardship that results from employee animosity to a particular religion, religion in general, or to the very notion of accommodating religious practice must also be excluded from the inquiry. Finally, the Court reiterated that Title VII requires that an employer reasonably accommodate an employee's practice of religion, not merely that it assess the reasonableness of a particular possible accommodation. Practically speaking, this means that an employer cannot preemptively conclude, for example, that requiring other employees to work overtime in order to accommodate an employee's religious belief would constitute an undue hardship. Consideration of other options, like those historically promoted by the EEOC, are also necessary. To that end, the Court noted that little, if any, change in the EEOC's guidance on undue hardship will result from Groff's clarifying language. Specifically, the agency's existing guidance explaining why no undue hardship is imposed by temporary costs, voluntary shift swapping, occasional shift swapping, or administrative costs remains intact.


Next Steps for Employers


Employers must now evaluate employee requests for religious accommodations under the heightened, more nuanced standard articulated in Groff. When analyzing whether a request for a religious accommodation constitutes an undue hardship, employers should modify their accommodation analysis to evaluate the request within the larger context of the employer's business, considering factors such as substantial additional cost in relation to the conduct of the business. This will require an individualized, fact-specific inquiry on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, employers should consider other potential accommodations for employees, and not only the accommodation requested.


Employers should revise their employee training materials, policies, and, if necessary, employee handbooks to remove any reference to the "de minimis cost" test and to instead reflect that employers will provide reasonable religious accommodations unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Human resources and management personnel should also be notified and/or trained regarding the heightened, individualized analysis now required to evaluate requests for religious accommodations.

As always, if you have any questions about the matters discussed in this issue of Compliance Matters, please call your firm contact at (818) 508-3700 or visit us online at


Katherine A. Hren

Amanda C. Koziol

Kelley M. Fox
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