What Must Employers Do To Reasonably Accommodate An Employee’s Religious Beliefs?
Having represented employment discrimination victims for more than twenty years, our employment discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida know that employees sometimes encounter a conflict between their religious beliefs and employment requirements. When such a conflict occurs, employers are required by federal employment discrimination law to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. Despite their obligation under federal employment discrimination law, our Inverness, Florida employment discrimination attorneys have learned, employers refuse to offer an accommodation that eliminates the conflict between an employee’s religious beliefs and employment requirements. Instead of offering an accommodation that eliminates the conflict, employers simply offer an accommodation that might, in theory, eliminate the conflict but does not eliminate the conflict in practice. Having offered an accommodation that might work, employers claim they have complied with their reasonable accommodation obligation and did not discriminate on the basis of religion.
In this article, our employment discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida explain how the decision in Groff v. DeJoy, 35 F.4th (3d Cir. 2022) demonstrates that to constitute a reasonable accommodation under federal employment discrimination law, an accommodation must eliminate the conflict between an employee’s religious beliefs and an employment requirement.
Duty To Accommodate Religious Beliefs
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. Title VII also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of employees when they conflict with employment requirements, short of incurring an undue hardship. Thus, Title VII not only imposes a duty on employers not to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion, Title VII also imposes an obligation on employers to reasonably accommodate employee’s religious beliefs. When an employer fails to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs that conflict with employment requirements, the employer has discriminated against the employee on the basis of religion in violation of Title VII, unless the employer shows that accommodating the employee’s religious beliefs would have imposed undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
Religious Discrimination Lawsuit
In Groff, a man named Groff brought a religious discrimination claim against his former employer, the United States Postal Service (USPS), pursuant to Title VII. Groff claims that the USPS violated Title VII by failing to reasonably accommodate his religion.
Groff worked for the USPS as a postal carrier. Groff is a Sunday Sabbath observer whose religious beliefs dictate that Sunday is meant for worship and rest. As a result, Groff informed USPS that he was unable to work on Sundays due to his religious beliefs. As an accommodation for his religious beliefs, the USPS offered to find employees to swap shifts with him, but on no more than twenty Sundays, no co-worker would swap and did not work when scheduled on Sundays. Because Groff did not work when scheduled on Sundays, he faced progressive discipline. During the disciplinary process, the USPS proposed another alternative: pick a different day of the week to observe the Sabbath.
After being subjected to discipline for not working on scheduled Sundays, Groff once again sought an accommodation not to work on Sundays or a transfer to a position that did not require Sunday work. Ultimately, Groff resigned his employment with the USPS. In his resignation letter, Groff stated that he decided to leave the job because he was unable to find an “accommodating employment atmosphere with the USPS that would honor [his] personal religious beliefs.”
Employer Must Eliminate Conflict
After the trial court dismissed Groff’s religious discrimination claim, the threshold issue before the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals was whether the USPS had reasonably accommodated Groff’s religious beliefs. The USPS acknowledged that its offered accommodations did not eliminate the conflict between Groff’s religious beliefs and the employment requirement that Groff work on Sundays. However, the USPS argued that it was not required to eliminate the conflict between religious beliefs and employment requirements in order to satisfy its reasonable accommodation requirement under Title VII. Instead, the USPS maintained that “so long as the offered accommodation could, in theory, eliminate the conflict between a job duty and the religious obligation, the employer has fulfilled its Title VII duty even if the accommodation does not eliminate the conflict in practice.” In other words, the USPS contended that “so long as the employer offers an accommodation that may work, it has acted reasonably” in compliance with Title VII’s reasonable accommodation requirement.
The Third Circuit rejected the USPS’s argument. The appellate court explained that under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, reasonable accommodation must “eliminate the conflict between employment requirements and religious practices.” Under the Supreme Court’s standard, the court of appeals observed, if the accommodation offered by the employer does not eliminate the conflict between religious beliefs and employment requirements, then the offered accommodation is not a reasonable accommodation under Title VII. When the employer fails to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, the appellate court pointed out, the employer then must prove that accommodating the employer’s religious beliefs would “work an undue hardship upon the employer and its business.”
In applying the Supreme Court’s standard, the Third Circuit found that the shift swaps the USPS offered to Groff did not eliminate the conflict between his religious beliefs and the employment requirement of Sunday work. Rather, the USPS “was unsuccessful in finding someone to swap shifts on twenty-four Sundays over a sixty-week period.” “Because no coverage was secured and Groff failed to appear for work,” the appellate court noted, “he was disciplined.” Thus, “even though shift swapping can be a reasonable means of accommodating a conflicting religious practice,” the court of appeals explained, “here it did not constitute an ‘accommodation’ as contemplated by Title VII because it did not successfully eliminate the conflict.”
Accommodation Would Cause Undue Hardship
Having found that the USPS failed to reasonably accommodate Groff’s religious beliefs, the Third Circuit then turned to the issue of “whether exempting Groff from Sunday work—which would eliminate the conflict—would result in an undue hardship.” In resolving this issue, the court of appeals noted that although “an undue hardship is one that results in more than a de minimis cost to the employer,” an employer nonetheless is “not required to accommodate at all costs.” In fact, “both economic and non-economic costs suffered by the employer can constitute an undue hardship.” “Examples of undue hardship,” the appellate court observed, “include negative impacts on the employer’s operations, such as productivity or quality, personnel and overtime costs, increased workload on other employees, and reduced employee morale.”
In applying these principles, the Third Circuit determined that “Groff’s proposed accommodation of being exempted from Sunday work would cause an undue hardship.” The court of appeals reasoned that “exempting Groff from working on Sundays caused more than a de minimis cost on USPS because it actually imposed on his co-workers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale.” “Because exempting Groff from Sunday work caused undue hardship,” the Third Circuit concluded, “USPS did not violate Title VII by declining to grant his accommodation.”
Citrus County Employment Discrimination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment discrimination attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you have been denied an accommodation for your religious beliefs or have questions about your right to an accommodation for your religious beliefs, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.