Agudath Israel Joins COLPA Brief in Supreme Court Case to Protect the Rights of Shabbos Observers

By Hamodia Staff

NEW YORK — Agudath Israel of America has filed and an amicus curiae “friend of the court” brief with the US Supreme Court in Groff v. DeJoy, a case seeking to protect the rights of Sabbath observers.

Gerald Groff was a Pennsylvania mailman who was denied accommodation by the United States Postal Service (USPS) to avoid working on Sunday, his religious day of rest.

Amazon contracted with USPS to deliver packages on Sundays, and Mr. Groff was faced with a religious dilemma. He attempted to make arrangements to avoid working Sundays by offering to work multiple make-up shifts and even by switching postal offices, but USPS deemed this insufficient and multiple disciplinary actions were taken against him.

Facing termination Mr. Groff chose, instead, to resign from the USPS, and following his resignation he sued his employer for failing to accommodate his sincerely held religious beliefs. The trial court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against him on the basis that his absence on Sunday caused an “undue burden” to the USPS because his coworkers would have to work extra shifts on Sunday to make up for his being off.

The courts’ ruling is based off an earlier Supreme Court ruling in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, in which the Court loosely defined “undue burden” as “more than de minimis cost,” meaning more than a “trivial burden.”

Agudath Israel of America joined other Orthodox Jewish organizations that filed an amicus curiae “friend of the court” brief under the auspices of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA). In the brief, written by noted constitutional scholar Nat Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, COLPA asked the Supreme Court to protect the rights of Sabbath observers in this case by overturning its previous ruling in the Hardison case. The brief claims that the Hardison case perpetrates great injustice and harm on Sabbath observing citizens.

The brief also notes that because of Hardison, religious employees have a harder time receiving legal accommodation than those who need accommodation other protected classes.

“The history of American Jewry cannot be told without marking the struggle for Sabbath observance,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president. “Due to Hardison, countless people have given up or even lost employment opportunities for jobs for which they were eminently qualified. Most of these cases were not even litigated because of the high bar set by Hardison. We urge the Supreme Court to rectify this and protect the religious liberties of Americans in the workforce.”

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