Rather Than Deliver Amazon Packages on Sunday
News Views first covered this story in February 2019 when Gerald Groff first sued USPS. Groff said at the time, that it was his favorite job. He wants the job back, he wants back pay, he wants Sundays off, and he wants money for emotional distress.
Gerald E. Groff, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for several years in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is an evangelical Christian and Sunday Sabbath observer. Groff began working with USPS in 2012, a year before it began contracting with Amazon for package delivery. As a result of the contract, USPS postal workers were expected to take on Sunday shifts to accommodate weekend deliveries.
Groff, like other USPS workers, was bound by a collective-bargaining agreement that required him to work at least some Sunday shifts. However, because the shifts conflicted with Groff’s religious practice, he requested reassignment to another post office branch that did not participate in Sunday deliveries. Later, that branch also began to offer Sunday deliveries.
At first, Groff was permitted by his supervisor to find his own substitute coverage on Sundays. However, Groff was erratic in doing so, and missed over two dozen assigned Sunday shifts.
In 2019 Groff knew he was at risk of being fired so he quit. He then became represented by First Liberty Institute, (praying assistant football coach) who filed a lawsuit claiming illegal discrimination and failure to provide appropriate accommodation for his religious beliefs.
USPS won the case at the district court and at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Groff is hoping the Supreme Court will rule in his favor and reject the TWA v. Hardison precedent.
The TWA v. Hardison ruling, from 1977, said that employers need not offer religious accommodation if doing so would cause an “undue hardship” on an employer.
In the ruling the Supreme Court defined “undue hardship” as anything having more than a “de minimis,” or trivial cost.
But that “de minimis” standard isn’t in the federal statute and several of the Supreme Court’s conservative justices have openly questioned it.
Here’s some additional information from the judge at the district court.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl (a Barack Obama appointee) granted the defense’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Groff had failed to show he was treated differently with regard to Sunday work than any other employees had been treated, and that the postal service required Sunday work because it was important for business.
Not one decision-maker ever made a negative comment to Groff about his religion or his observance of it. All decision-makers denied anti-religious animus, and several of them were Christian themselves. Groff cannot prove pretext by suggesting or speculating that there was anti-Christian animus in the USPS. He must prove it and he clearly has not.
Similarly, there is certainly evidence that Sunday Amazon delivery was very important but challenging for Defendant, and that the USPS struggled to get RCA’s to work on Sundays. There is no evidence in the record of fabrication by Defendant. Accordingly, Groff cannot prove that Defendant’s reasons for his discipline were a pretext for discrimination and his disparate treatment claim must fail.
Here’s the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.