The Supreme Court can turn every workplace into a religious battleground in Groff v. DeJoy


The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would hear Grove v. DeJoyan issue that could give religious conservatives an unprecedented new ability to dictate how their workplaces operate, and which workplace rules they will refuse to follow.

Until now Grove It would also likely overrule an earlier Supreme Court decision that treated the interests of religious employees more lightly than federal law suggests these workers should be treated.

In other words, the case presents really tough questions about the limits of understanding an employee’s religious beliefs. But these questions will be resolved by the Supreme Court, which has shown an extraordinary willingness to do so bend the law In ways that benefit Christian conservatives.

This could lead to a scenario in which a court announces a new rule of law that disrupts the workplace – potentially placing a lot of burdens on non-religious employees.

Plaintiff Gerald Grove, a former postal worker who wanted him off Sundays because of his religious beliefs. He asks the court to abandon a nearly half-century-old rule, first announced in Trans World Airlines vs. Hardison (1977), which severely limits an employee’s ability to seek religious accommodations from an employer.

Federal law requires employers to “reasonably accommodate” the religious beliefs and practices of their workers unless this would result in “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” But Hardison Prove that this law does not require employers to “bear more than a minimum cost” when it provides religious accommodations (the Latin phrase “de minimis” denotes burden too small or insignificant to merit consideration).

As Justice Thurgood Marshall writes in his book Hardison opposition to this decision.flout the statuteThe subject matter of the case, which was apparently supposed to protect the workers from the most trivial incursions into their religious faith.

But if Hardison did little to protect religious personnel, Grove It could easily go the other way.

In cases brought by business owners seeking exemptions from federal and state laws, for example, the court has allowed those owners Discriminate against LGBT people and l Deny their employees some health benefits. If a court applied a similar standard to employees seeking religious accommodation, in a worst-case scenario, it could give the manager the right to refuse to hire any LGBTQ employees or The treatment of subordinates is different from the treatment of men.

All of this is a long way of saying it Grove It involves an unusual field of lawlessness. Judges acting in good faith will find it difficult to draw a proper line on which requests for religious accommodations should be honored and which should be denied. And in cases related to religion, this court cannot be relied upon Act in good faith.

later-Hardison World, there will be a lot of lawsuits

The law governing religious accommodations in the workplace is ambiguous. It does not give employers clear instructions about the type of behavior that violates the law, nor does it give judges much guidance on how to rule on cases involving workers seeking religious accommodations.

Instead, the law simply states that employers must “reasonably accommodate” requests for accommodations that will not result in “undue hardship on the conduct of business of the employer.” (The Americans with Disabilities Act does Use similar language to describe when a worker’s disability must be accommodated, but the text of the ADA is more detailed than the law governing religious accommodations, and there is jurisdictional law that interprets the ADA that has not been applied to religious cases.)

Actually, the facts of both Hardison And Grove Show how somewhat routine residency applications can turn into tricky legal questions with few clear answers. Hardison An airline worker was implicated who, for religious reasons, did not work on Saturday. Grove It involves a similar dispute brought by Sunday off.

But if a particular worker can’t work a Saturday or Sunday shift, that usually means that a different worker will need to come in that day to pick up the slack. This can lead to discontent that disrupts the workplace and can cause affected workers to look for jobs elsewhere.

At one point, Gerald Grove, a postal worker at heart grove, I worked at a post office With only four employees – himself, two other postal carriers, and the postmaster – who are likely to work the Sunday shifts. So, when Groff refused to work on Sundays, this meant that the three remaining employees had to divide these unwanted shifts among themselves if the post office was to be fully operational. (Although the Post Office does not deliver mail on Sundays, the Postal Service contracted with Amazon in 2013 to deliver packages on Sundays.)

Does forcing these employees to miss out on time at home with their families in order to accommodate Groff amount to “undue hardship”? The answer is that the relevant law does not say. And because Hardison It has been the law for more than four decades, and there is little case law defining what counts as undue hardship if Hardison has been overturned.

Which is not to say Hardison done correctly. As noted by the Supreme Court EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch (2015), the text of the Religious Residence Act does not simply prohibit discrimination against religious employees. It expressly requires that such employees be given “preferential treatment” when they seek reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs. Although employers are not required to endure “undue hardship” to accommodate a particular employee, the phrase “undue hardship” is difficult to reconcile. Hardisonmore than minimum the cost “.

If the court overturned HardisonHowever, lower courts will suddenly have to sort out a host of cases involving vague and ill-defined legislative language, where the outcome is likely to shift heavily on the facts of a particular case. And they will have to do so under the watchful eye of the Supreme Court, which often demands that religious conservatives get extraordinary accommodations.

GroveIn other words, it may be too late, but it’s also a recipe for chaos. There is a lot to criticize Hardison. But this court can easily replace Hardison with an unwieldy legal standard that places too many burdens on workers who are not looking for religious accommodations.

The court recently began allowing religious conservatives to seek settlements that detract from the rights of others

For many years, the Supreme Court has followed a straightforward practice in cases brought by clergy seeking religious accommodations. Although the law often provides strong protections for religious persons, individuals and religious institutions They cannot practice their faith to diminish the rights of others.

As established by the Court United States against me (1982), a case brought by Amish employers who unsuccessfully sought exemption from paying Social Security taxes on religious grounds, “When adherents of a particular denomination enter into a business by choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct should not be imposed as a matter of conscience and faith on legal schemes binding on others in this activity.”

in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby (2014), however, the Court has taken a major step away from for mehold, for the first timethat business owners seeking a religious exemption from the law may obtain it even if granting such an exemption would strip others of legal rights. hobby lobby She argued that employers with religious objections to birth control could defy a federal rule that required them to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their employees’ health plans.

Significantly, however, the hobby lobby The decision applies only to “closely owned companies” — that is, companies that have only one or a few owners — and does not apply to companies that are publicly traded or have many shareholders. In fact, the hobby lobby The opinion expressed doubts about whether large employers with many shareholders could seek religious relief from the law, because “the notion that unrelated shareholders—including institutional investors with their own stakeholder group—would agree to run a company Under the same religious beliefs it seems unlikely.

After a while hobby lobby It would almost certainly not allow a large, publicly traded company like Google, Walmart, or McDonald’s to seek religious exemption from the law, a very broad decision in Grove It can effectively allow company managers to impose their religious views on their subordinates. just us hobby lobby Religious dissidents are allowed to seek exemptions from federal law, a broad decision in Grove Religious employees will be allowed to seek exemption from anything their employer requires of them.

Imagine, for example, that the head of human resources at Wal-Mart objects to birth control on religious grounds and refuses to take any action that might result in a Wal-Mart employee receiving a health plan that covers birth control. Could this human resource manager claim a religious accommodation that would prevent Walmart workers from receiving a health benefit?

Similarly, imagine a store manager who, on religious grounds, refuses to hire or work with a transgender person. Usually the current majority of the court supports business owners And religious institutions who seek exemption from laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people. Does that mean he would also grant religious residency to the anti-LGBT store manager?

The answer to these questions will turn out to be very subjective rulings by the courts, and ultimately by the Supreme Court. Is it “reasonable” for an HR officer to refuse to sign paperwork related to contraceptive coverage? Is it “undue hardship” for Wal-Mart if one of its stores explicitly discriminates against transgender workers? And because the Basic Law has not even begun to answer these questions, they will have to be answered by a judicial panel controlled by Republican appointees.

Right now, it’s hard to tell where this court will draw the line – Hardison It remains good law until a court overturns it, and most justices have not publicly expressed their view of what the law should look like without Hardison.

But, given the extraordinary care shown by the Court to religious conservative business owners, there is certainly a danger that this Court will show similar care to corporate directors who wish to impose their religious beliefs on others.



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