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High Court Lightens Employees’ Burden of Proof in Religious Bias Cases

Freedom of religion is a constitutional right and faith is an important part of the lives of many Americans. For some of the particularly devout, religious duties and practices can impact their jobs in ways that might not be entirely consistent with their employers’ modes of operating. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for religious employees who request them, but only if those measures do not create undue hardship for the operation of the business. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has set a higher standard for proving that level of hardship.

Previously, some courts allowed employers to deny requests for religious accommodations by showing that the accommodation would cause minor expense or inconvenience. In Groff v. DeJoy, the high court substantially changed this permissive standard and thereby made it easier for plaintiffs to prove religious discrimination.

Plaintiff Gerald Groff, a mail carrier and an Evangelical Christian, objected when the U.S. Postal Service asked him to work on Sunday as part of its service contract with Amazon. His Sunday deliveries were distributed to other staff and Groff was disciplined for his refusal to work. He resigned and then sued, claiming failure to accommodate his religious practices. The district court dismissed the case and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that exempting Groff from Sunday work had disrupted the workplace and workflow, had imposed on his coworkers and had diminished employee morale.

In reversing, the Supreme Court found that to create an undue hardship, a proposed religious accommodation must result in a substantial increased cost for the operation of the business. That cost is determined by taking into account all relevant factors, including the practical effects of the accommodation in light of the employer’s nature, size and operating costs. The impact on coworkers can be considered, but only to the extent that it affects the business itself. In a case like Groff’s, having to pay other employees overtime to pick up the workload would not in itself constitute an undue hardship unless other staffing options prove unavailable.

If your employer denies your request for a religious accommodation, you can pursue remedies for relief under state or federal law. An experienced employment law attorney can attempt to negotiate an accommodation that works for you and rebut claims of undue hardship. If your employer remains adamant, the attorney can represent you in a religious discrimination claim.

Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C., with offices in Hackensack, champions the rights of employees throughout northern New Jersey to be free of all forms of discrimination. Call us at 551-245-8894 or contact us online to set up an appointment.

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Neil H. Deutsch

Neil H. Deutsch has been practicing law for over 35 years and is known as a skilled negotiator in employment and discrimination law. He believes in a bottom-line approach of risk analysis and cost effectiveness for his clients. "Case evaluation is something we take seriously," says Mr. Deutsch who seeks top net dollar for his…

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Bruce L. Atkins
Senior Partner

Bruce L. Atkins is the Senior Managing Partner at Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt P.C., a prominent plaintiff employment law firm in the tri-state area. Mr. Atkins believes employees’ rights should be aggressively pursued when they’ve been wrongfully dealt with by their employers. He brings this philosophy to his practice when considering each case and its…

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Adam J. Kleinfeldt

Adam J. Kleinfeldt joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in March of 2015.  He primarily represents individuals in employment litigation such as discrimination, retaliation and whistle blowing matters. He has extensive experience in all phases of the litigation process. Adam has obtained significant results for his clients, including a $525,000 jury verdict in a sexual…

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Debra M. McGarvey

Debra M. McGarvey joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in December 2019. She has extensive experience defending employees and employers in state and federal court in employment litigation matters. She has represented clients on various issues arising out of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), the…

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Carly Skarbnik Meredith

Carly Skarbnik Meredith, Esq. is a Partner at the firm. Carly has focused her career exclusively in the field of employment law. She has a plethora of experience representing both employees and employers with their employment issues, needs, and concerns. She believes representing both employees and employers has made her an extremely well-rounded client advocate.…


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