CONSTITUTIONAL LAW-FIRST AMENDMENT-RELIGION-REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION-US POSTAL SERVICE

May 27th, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Constitutional Law

Groff v. Dejoy, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 14195 (3rd Cir. May 25, 2022) (Shwartz, C.J.)  Plaintiff Gerald Groff is a Sunday Sabbath observer whose religious beliefs dictate that Sunday is meant for worship and rest. As a result, Groff informed his employer, the United States Postal Service (“USPS”), that he was unable to work on Sundays. USPS offered to find employees to swap shifts with him, but on more than twenty Sundays, no co-worker would swap, and Groff did not work. Groff was disciplined and ultimately left USPS. Groff sued USPS for violating Title VII by failing to reasonably accommodate his religion. Because the shift swaps USPS offered to Groff did not eliminate the conflict between his religious practice and his work obligations, USPS did not provide Groff a reasonable accommodation. The accommodation Groff sought (exemption from Sunday work), however, would cause an undue hardship on USPS. An employer is not required “to accommodate at all costs.” Ansonia, 479 U.S. at 70. Where an employer’s good-faith efforts to accommodate have been unsuccessful, the inquiry turns to whether the employer demonstrated that “such an accommodation would work an undue hardship upon the employer and its business.” GEO Grp., 616 F.3d at 271. “An ‘undue hardship’ is one that results in more than a de minimis cost to the employer.” Id. at 273. Both economic and noneconomic costs suffered by the employer can constitute an undue hardship. Id. The undue hardship analysis is case-specific, requiring a court to look to “both the fact as well as the magnitude of the alleged undue hardship,” though it is “not a difficult threshold to pass.” Id. (quoting Webb, 562 F.3d at 260). Groff’s proposed accommodation of being exempted from Sunday work would cause an undue hardship. Exempting Groff from working on Sundays caused more than a de minimis cost on USPS because it actually imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale at both the Holtwood Post Office and the Lancaster Annex hub. The Holtwood Post Office to which Groff was assigned had only a postmaster and three RCAs (including Groff) available for Sunday deliveries. Because Groff would not work on Sundays, only three individuals remained who could work on Sundays during the peak season. After the one RCA who covered for Groff was injured, only the Holtwood Postmaster and the remaining RCA were available to work the Sunday shift. This placed a great strain on the Holtwood Post Office personnel and even resulted in the Postmaster delivering mail on some Sundays. The Holtwood Postmaster testified, “[o]ther carriers were being forced to cover [Groff’s] shifts and give up their family time, their ability to attend church services if they would have liked to,” and these additional demands “created a tense atmosphere with the other RCAs.” At the hub, Groff’s absences also had an impact on operations and morale. The hub supervisor testified that Groff’s absence made timely delivery more difficult, and carriers had to deliver more mail. As at the Holtwood Post Office, Groff’s absence also had a negative impact on morale among the RCAs at the hub and resulted in a Union grievance being filed. According to management, allowing Groff to swap shifts was the only accommodation that would not impact operations and exempting him from the rotation would result in other employees “do[ing] more than their share of burdensome work.” Thus, Groff’s absences caused, and exempting Groff from Sunday work would continue to cause, an undue hardship.  Because exempting Groff from Sunday work caused undue hardship, USPS did not violate Title VII by declining to grant his accommodation.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]