Washington, D.C. | www.mpac.org | April 18, 2023 — Today, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in Groff v. DeJoy — a Title VII religious discrimination case that could have major implications for American Muslims, other faith communities and more broadly racial and ethnic minorities as well as low-income individuals seeking workplace accommodations to perform their religious observances.
MPAC, in collaboration with Harvard Law School’s Religious Freedom Clinic, had previously submitted an Amicus Brief in support of Groff – an evangelical Christian who faced discipline for refusing to work on Sundays in keeping with his religious beliefs. M. Faiyaz Hussain, MPAC’s Senior Advisor for Strategy, Policy & Programs provided support on the brief to the Harvard students and was there at the Supreme Court, in person, to hear the oral arguments and represent the interests of the American Muslim community.
While many of our supporters are aware of MPAC’s engagement with the legislative and executive branches of our government, Groff is a great example of a case where MPAC also strategically engages with the judicial branch of our government on key issues that can have major implications on our ability to freely practice our faith as a minority community while also protecting the rights of other faith communities in the United States.
If Groff is successful, the case could have major ramifications on our ability to practice our faith in the workplace – including, for example, the ability of American Muslims to ask for accommodations to temporarily leave the workplace to pray Friday prayer in congregation and even impact a Muslim worker’s ability to perform their 5 daily prayers on time while at work. Given the importance of the issues being decided, the case has garnered significant national press. The various media reports can be found here and here.
At the heart of the case is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a statute which provides that employers may not discriminate against workers because of, among other things, their religion. In 1972, Congress amended Title VII to include greater protections for workers, requiring companies to “reasonably accommodate” religious practices of employees if they do not create an “undue hardship” on the business. In 1977, the Supreme Court decided Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, interpreting the term “undue hardship” to mean that an employer need not accommodate an employee’s religious belief if doing so would require a business to bear more than a “de minimis” burden (de minimis in legal terms means something that is very minor or trivial). Many religious liberty advocates have argued since then that Hardison incorrectly set the bar for religious accommodations far too low as it allows employers an easy way out of accommodating employee requests.
Groff has asked the Court to overturn the “de minimis” standard and adopt a different interpretation of undue hardship – one which would require employers to accommodate religious practices unless doing so would impose a substantial burden or significant expense on the employer. Courts typically make the substantial burden determination by looking at a given employer’s size, financial viability, work demands etc. in comparison to the employee request. This interpretation would not only allow for employee requests to be given more serious consideration by employers but it would also bring Title VII’s religious accommodation more in line with the Court’s interpretation of other federal statutes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
We support the expansion of the “undue hardship’ definition because research done by Harvard Law students for the brief showed that the current low standard disproportionately affects adherents of minority faith and low-income wage earners. For example, Muslims file nearly 20% of Title VII claims, even though they make up less than 1% of the population. Their research also showed that nearly three-quarters of religious discrimination cases were brought by non-professional or blue-collar workers. Further, the majority of plaintiffs in these cases likely did not have the economic ability to simply walk away from the job if an employer refused to accommodate their religious practice leaving them in the difficult position of having to choose between their livelihood and their faith. The brief also details how this can be spiritually and mentally injurious to these employees as well.