On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited ruling in Groff v. DeJoy, 600 U.S. __ (2023), clarifying the standard governing an employer’s duty to accommodate its employees’ religious observances and practices under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In a unanimous decision penned by Justice Alito, the Court ruled that for an employer to be relieved of its duty to accommodate the religious practices of its employees, the employer must show that accommodating the practice would impose a burden that is “substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business.”
Notably, the Court did not overrule its decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U. S. 63, 84 (1977), under which lower courts construed the “undue hardship” standard as merely imposing more than a de minimis cost on the employer. The Court also declined to raise the bar to the same and more demanding standard of “significant difficulty or expense,” which is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to prove undue hardship when presented with a request to accommodate a disability. Instead, Groff emphasizes Hardison’s repeated references to “substantial expenditures” and “substantial additional costs,” confines the case’s more-than-de-minimis language to the facts of that case, and embraces the meaning of “undue hardship” in ordinary speech.
Thus, under Groff, an employer must undertake a fact-specific inquiry and ask whether the burden of granting a request for religious accommodation would result in “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” Open questions remain, however, as the Court declined to ratify EEOC guidance on the types of religious practices that generally should be accommodated or create an undue hardship.
Employers should review their religious accommodation practices and procedures to ensure compliance with this recent precedent.
This article summarizes aspects of the law and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice for your situation, you should contact an attorney.