U.S. Supreme Court Increases Employer Burden for Religious Accommodations Under Title VII, in Groff v. DeJoy

June 29, 2023

Types : Alerts

On June 29, 2023, in Groff v. DeJoy, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously heightened the standard for employers to demonstrate “undue hardship” under Title VII, holding that “showing more than a de minimis cost . . . does not suffice to establish undue hardship under Title VII.” Groff v. DeJoy, 600 U.S. ___, at 15 (2023) (internal quotations omitted). To demonstrate “undue hardship” under Title VII, an employer must now undertake a fact-specific analysis showing the “burden is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business.” Specifically, “an employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”


In 2019, Petitioner Gerald Groff (“Groff”) resigned and sued his former employer, the United States Postal Service (“USPS”), for failing to reasonably accommodate his religious practice. In 2012, the USPS hired Groff, an Evangelical Christian who observes Sunday Sabbath, as a Rural Carrier Associate at the Quarryville, Pennsylvania Post Office. In 2013, USPS signed a contract to deliver Amazon.co, Inc., packages, including on Sundays.

In 2015, Quarryville began delivering packages on Sundays. At first, Groff was exempted from working Sundays. When this changed, Groff transferred to the Holtwood Post Office in August 2016. In 2017, the Holtwood Post Office also began delivering on Sundays. Other employees, including the postmaster, covered Groff’s Sunday shift assignments. During particular seasons, USPS would staff an extra employee on days that Groff was scheduled to work on Sunday. Groff faced progressive discipline for failing to work on scheduled Sundays. Soon thereafter, Groff resigned and sued USPS for failing to reasonably accommodate his religious practice under Title VII. 

The district court ultimately granted USPS’s motion for summary judgment, holding that USPS offered Groff a reasonable accommodation and that exempting Groff from Sunday deliveries would cause undue hardship to USPS because it would “cause[] more than a de minimus [sic] impact on [Groff’s] co-workers.” The court of appeals affirmed and concluded that accommodating Groff by exempting him from Sunday work would result in undue hardship under Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison. The Supreme Court of the United States granted Groff’s petition for a writ of certiorari.

Questions Presented to the Court

The questions presented to the Court were:

  1. Whether the Court should disapprove the more-than-de-minimis-cost test for refusing Title VII religious accommodations stated in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977).
  2. Whether an employer may demonstrate “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business” under Title VII merely by showing that the requested accommodation burdens the employee’s coworkers rather than the business itself.

Legal Analysis

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may not “discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s * * * religion.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In 1972, Congress amended Title VII to require employers to “reasonably accommodate” “all aspects” of an “employee’s . . . religious observance or practice” that can be accommodated “without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j).

In Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977), the Court considered an employee’s request for an accommodation that would allow him to abstain from Sabbath work.  Ruling for the employer, the Court declared that an employer’s business suffers an “undue hardship” whenever accommodating an employee’s religious exercise would require the employer “to bear more than a de minimis cost.”

In Groff, the Court clarified that this de minimis interpretation of “undue hardship” adopted by many lower courts as authoritative is incorrect, explaining that, “it is doubtful that it was meant to take on that large role.” Instead, the Court interpreted Hardison as holding that “an employer may be required to bear costs and make expenditures that are not ‘substantial.’” The Court explained,

  • What matters more than a favored synonym for undue hardship (which is the actual text) is that courts must apply the test in a manner that takes into account all relevant factors in the case at hand, including the particular accommodations at issue and their practical impact in light of the nature, size and operating cost of [an] employer.

As to the second question presented, regarding an accommodation’s burden on coworkers, the Court clarified that “not all impacts on coworkers . . . are relevant, but only coworker impacts that go on to affect the conduct of the business.” Further, “Title VII requires that an employer reasonably accommodate an employee’s practice of religion, not merely that it assess the reasonableness of a particular possible accommodation or accommodations.” The Court emphasized that,

  • Faced with an accommodation request like Groff’s, it would not be enough for an employer to conclude that forcing other employees to work overtime would constitute an undue hardship. Consideration of other options, such as voluntary shift swapping, would also be necessary.

In conclusion, the Court vacated the court of appeals’ decision and remanded the matter, “[w]ithout foreclosing the possibility that USPS will prevail[.]” The Court noted that the de minimis cost test “may have led the [court of appeals] to dismiss a number of possible accommodations, including those involving the cost of incentive pay, or the administrative costs of coordination with other nearby stations with a broader set of employees.” Instead, the Court stated that it is appropriate for “lower courts to apply our clarified context-specific standard, and to decide whether any further factual development is needed.” 

Considerations for Employers

The Court’s ruling in Groff increases an employer’s responsibility to “reasonably accommodate” all aspects of an employee’s religious observance or practice under Title VII. It is no longer sufficient for an employer to merely demonstrate a particular accommodation would result in a more than de-minimis cost in order to show “undue hardship.” Now, an employer arguing an accommodation is an “undue hardship” must undertake a fact-specific analysis showing the “burden is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business.” For example, arguing that an accommodation would affect an employee’s coworkers is not enough under Title VII. Rather, an employer must show that the accommodation “would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”

Employers should keep this heightened standard in mind when responding to religious accommodation requests under Title VII. This change will likely require making adjustments to employer policies and current accommodation requests. Employers should also expect this new burden under Title VII to be further interpreted and defined by the lower courts in their respective jurisdictions, as these courts consider suits arising from different facts.

Employers and legal practitioners should also keep in mind that Hardison remains good law in all other respects. That is, while showing “more than a de minimis cost” no longer suffices to establish “undue hardship” under Title VII, the Court emphasized that “Hardison cannot be reduced to that one phrase.” Hardison remains a principal case discussing seniority systems in the face of an employee’s request for religious accommodation. Employers should consider both Groff and Hardison when considering religious accommodation requests.


Labor and Employment

Our Labor and Employment Department has extensive experience in all aspects of labor and employment law, and serves employers throughout the United States. We are focused on providing our clients […]

Learn more about our Labor and Employment Department

1 of 1