“This is an important victory for Americans of all faiths, who may now follow their religious consciences in the workplace.”
—Aaron Streett of Baker Botts, attorney for Gerald Groff in Groff vs. DeJoy; Groff was fired by the USPS when he would not work on Sundays, and too often, no other employees could be found to cover for him.
Observing the strange hierarchies in American politics, the question of who the most powerful figures are is one for late-night debates. Once again, the Supreme Court has shown itself to be a strong contender for the top of the heap, with a series of decisions in this season’s session that have profound implications for various aspects of American life.
For Orthodox Jews, one ruling stood out—a unanimous decision that employers must go beyond minimal expenses in accommodating religious workers, for example, by allowing them not to work on Shabbos. This case goes back more than half a century and may affect the ability of frum people to work at various jobs.
But that’s not the only blockbuster decision that the Supreme Court handed down. Several of the rulings had strong political significance, and a number of them had very strong cultural resonance.
Here is a look at a select number of the questions on which the Court ruled and the ramifications of those rulings. We also spoke with attorney Nat Lewin about his long involvement in one of the cases that was decided.
Does an employer have to accommodate a Sabbath observer if it will cost more than a minimal amount?
The Decision: Yes, 9-0
Ramifications: A Supreme Court ruling in 1977 on an earlier non-discrimination law has been interpreted in the intervening years to mean that if allowing a Sabbath observer to keep the Sabbath will cost the employer more than a de minimis (minimal) amount, the employer is allowed to discriminate against that person.
In effect, that basically allowed employers to deny jobs to religious employees who wanted to observe their Sabbath.
The Court ruled that this is not what the law actually says and that it would have to involve an actual “undue hardship,” as the original law protecting religious workers stated. This should make it easier for Sabbath-observant workers to get and keep jobs. (See the interview with Nat Lewin at the end of the article.)
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