SCOTUS May Make Religious Accommodations Easier to Get

( – Questions and discussion from the nine justices suggest the U.S. Supreme Court may soon rule on a case that will make it easier for employees to get what are called religious accommodations from their employers.

Plaintiff Gerald Groff is asking the high court to rule on whether he was unjustly fired from the U.S. Postal Service. Groff is a Christian who says he does not work on Sundays as that is the Sabbath day. The USPS fired him when he refused to deliver Amazon packages on Sundays.

It has only been since 2013 that the USPS began subcontracting for Amazon and delivering their products on Sundays.

Groff’s lawyer, Aaron Streett, argued that the court should overturn a 50-year-old precedent that tests whether an employee’s request for accommodation should be granted.

That test is referred to as the “de minimis” test. The term means “minimal,” and a 1977 Supreme Court decision established the principle that employers can deny a religious accommodation request if that request costs the employer more than a minimal amount. That minimal amount is not specifically defined.

Streett said the court should overturn that precedent. He said lower courts have abused the concept in order to deny religious accommodations that are reasonable. While several justices including Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett were sympathetic to the idea of revisiting the precedent, there was also skepticism about Groff’s specific claims.

During two hours of arguments, most justices asked pointed questions about whether the USPS asking employees to work on Sundays was unreasonable or against US laws that prevent employment discrimination against people of faith.

The U.S. is defending the USPS, and Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued against overturning the 1977 “de minimis” precedent. She said a number of cases in the court’s history that protect religious observance would be thrown into question if that happened. If the court moves from a “de minimis” standard to an “undue burden” standard, she argued, these cases would be “up for grabs.”

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