Postal worker refused accommodation to not work on Sabbath, fired

An appeal has been filed with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by a former United States Postal Worker who lost his job when he resisted orders that would force him to work on his Sabbath, Sundays.

Officials with First Liberty Institute say the appeal was filed in the case involve Gerald E. Groff, who had held a USPS position in Pennsylvania for nearly a decade.

“It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion,” said Hiram Sasser, of First Liberty. “The USPS should have recognized Gerald’s sincerely held belief that he must observe the Sunday Sabbath and granted him a religious exemption. We must protect the rights of every American to practice their faith without fear of losing their job.”

Other legal teams involved include Baker Botts LLP, the Church State Council, the Cornerstone Law Firm and the Independence Law Center.

Groff had started working at the Quarryville Post Office in Lancaster County in 2012, and was a Rural Carrier Associate.

He asked for a religious accommodation to observe Sunday Sabbath and it was granted.

“But when a conflict later arose between Groff’s duties as a mail carrier for USPS and his observance of the Sunday Sabbath, USPS offered only proposals that would still require Groff to work on Sundays and thereby violate his conscience,” First Liberty explained.

Groff sued after he was dismissed, and the district court claimed it was not necessary for a “reasonable accommodation” to eliminate the conflict causing the problem.

But the appeal explains, “Title VII required USPS to provide Groff a reasonable accommodation for his observance of the Sunday Sabbath, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on USPS. In holding that a reasonable accommodation need not eliminate the conflict between work and religion, the district court embraced the wrong side of a circuit split that this court has not yet considered. Properly understood, Title VII requires that an accommodation eliminate the conflict between work and religion. This conclusion flows from the plain meaning of the word ‘accommodate,’ which conveys the need for effectiveness. A proposed ‘accommodation’ that leaves the religious conflict festering is no accommodation at all.”

The problem arose when the USPS, under a special agreement with Amazon, ordered its employees to start working on Sundays to make those deliveries.

The appeal notes that, “American law and culture have long respected the idea of taking a day of rest from work,” and noted even the Constitution itself reflects that concept, giving the president “10 days (Sundays excepted)’ to decide whether to veto a bill.

However, when the USPS implemented its changed schedules, its only offerings to Groff were to work on Sunday, or work on Sunday.

“USPS signed a contract to deliver packages for … including on Sundays. As an evangelical Christian within the Protestant tradition, Groff observed Sunday as the Sabbath. Groff sincerely believes he is obligated to refrain from work on the Sunday Sabbath, including his USPS work responsibilities,” the appeal explains.

While the scheduling options gave the managers great flexibility, “Quarryville Postmaster Wright informed … him that he would need to work on Sundays for find another job.”

Groff then transferred to a different station which was not involved in Sunday deliveries, but shortly later, that process was launched yet again.

Eventually, none of the options offered by the USPS addressed the problem, and Groff was out of work. Further, “This is not a case where USPS could not accommodate Groff,” the appeal said.

That’s because it initially accommodated Groff “without undue hardship,” but then changed is practices.

On the issue, the Supreme Court has defined accommodation as “allowing the plaintiff to engage in her religious practice despite the employer’s normal rules to the contrary.”

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