The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments April 18 in the case of Gerald Groff, who in 2019 resigned from the United States Postal Service in Pennsylvania in the face of being required to work on Sundays.
Groff, an evangelical Christian who has served on several mission trips lasting up to two years, began working for the Postal Service in April 2012. He does not believe in working on Sundays, and because the Postal Service did not have Sunday mail delivery, he felt confident that he would be able to stay true to that conviction.
Even after the Postal Service contracted with Amazon to make Sunday deliveries, for several months in 2015 and 2016 the postmaster at the Quarryville Post Office granted Groff an accommodation that exempted him from working on Sundays. To help those who were scheduled in his place on Sundays, Groff picked up extra shifts on other days to help others.
But in August 2016, the postmaster revoked Groff’s accommodation and began demanding that he work on Sundays or find other employment. Groff transferred to the nearby Holtwood Post Office, which allowed him to continue observing Sunday as a day of rest—until Amazon Sunday deliveries came to that post office in March 2017.
Over the following months, because Groff would not work on Sundays, the Postal Service began disciplinary actions against him, including two suspensions and eight disciplinary interviews. In January 2019, knowing that he was about to be terminated, Groff resigned.
He filed suit against the Postal Service, but both the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of the Postal Service.
Groff’s attorneys have asked the Supreme Court to reverse the Third Circuit’s ruling, arguing that the lower courts based their decisions on a 1977 Supreme Court case that some of the current justices have said should be reconsidered.
Following the April 18 oral arguments, observers sought to analyze the justices’ questions to see which way the Court might be leaning. Court expert Amy Howe, writing at SCOTUSBlog.com, wrote that it was unclear whether the justices are actually prepared to overturn that 1977 decision, as some seemed to be searching for a compromise instead.
“No employee should be forced to choose between their faith and their job,” said Randall Wenger, COO & chief counsel at Independence Law Center. “Religious accommodations should be treated in the same way we accommodate the workplace needs of any employee.”
A decision in the case is expected by summer.
Photo: Courtesy of First Liberty Institute