Gerald Groff was employed by the USPS beginning in 2012 at the Quarryville Post Office in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he eventually became a Rural Carrier Associate.  Groff believes he must “[r]emember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” and asked for a religious accommodation to observe Sunday Sabbath, which his supervisor initially granted.

When the Quarryville station began delivering Amazon packages on Sundays, Groff negotiated with his then-postmaster, Patricia Wright, to receive an exemption from working on Sundays.  Postmaster Wright granted his request on condition that Groff provide additional shifts, whenever necessary, on other days of the week.  This arrangement worked to everyone’s satisfaction until Summer 2016.

But then USPS changed its position and offered only proposals that would still require Groff to work on Sundays and thereby violate his conscience.  After losing his job, Groff sued.  A district court sided with the USPS, concluding that a reasonable accommodation need not eliminate the conflict between work and religion and that accommodating Groff would pose an undue hardship on USPS.

First Liberty and Aaron Streett of Baker Botts, Alan Reinach of the Church State Council, Randall Wenger of the Independence Law Center, and David Crossett of Cornerstone Law Firm, appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District.

In their brief to the Third Circuit they argue, “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.”

“It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion,” said Hiram Sasser, Executive General Counsel at 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 right of every American to engage in religious exercise without fear of getting fired from their jobs.”

 

 

News Release
For Immediate Release: 1.25.22
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Former Postal Carrier Who Lost Job After USPS Refused Religious Accommodation Makes Case to Third Circuit
At oral argument, attorneys tell court USPS denial of religious accommodation to practice Sunday Sabbath violates federal law

Philadelphia, PA—Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit was urged to reverse a lower court decision that allowed the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) to force an employee, Gerald Groff, to work on Sundays.  Groff lost his job as a postal carrier after the USPS refused to grant him an accommodation for Sunday Sabbath.  First Liberty Institute, Baker Botts LLP, the Church State Council, the Cornerstone Law Firm, and the Independence Law Center represent Groff.

“No American should be forced to choose between their religion and their job,” said Hiram Sasser, Executive General Counsel at First Liberty. “Gerald was willing to work additional shifts on days other than Sunday, but his deeply held religious beliefs requiring him to honor the Sabbath.  The USPS should have recognized Gerald’s sincerely held belief that he must observe the Sunday Sabbath and granted him a religious exemption.”

Gerald Groff was employed by the USPS beginning in 2012 at the Quarryville Post Office in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he eventually became a Rural Carrier Associate.  Groff believes he must “[r]emember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” and asked for a religious accommodation to observe Sunday Sabbath, which his supervisor initially 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.  After losing his job, Groff sued.  The district court sided with the USPS, concluding that a reasonable accommodation need not eliminate the conflict between work and religion and that accommodating Groff would pose an undue hardship on USPS.

Attorneys for Groff, including Aaron Streett of Baker Botts, Alan Reinach of the Church State Council, Randall Wenger of the Independence Law Center, and David Crossett of Cornerstone Law Firm, argue that, as a federal employee with USPS, Groff was protected by Title VII from discrimination based on his religious beliefs and practices.  Consequently, USPS was obligated to provide an accommodation for his religious exercise.

Christopher Tutunjian of Baker Botts argued on behalf of Mr. Groff.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


News Release – 7.28.21

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