Religious accommodations questions are not terribly common in South Carolina. In normal years, EEOC charges for religious discrimination and accommodation issues are only about 3-4% of the total number of charges filed. In 2021, with the advent of the federal vaccine mandate, EEOC charges based on religious accommodations ballooned to 18% of total charges. (That vaccine mandate was eventually struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.) For 2023, I would expect the total number of religious charges to return to pre-vaccine limits.
However, a few months ago, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous 9-0 decision (Groff v. DeJoy, 143 S.Ct. 2279 (2023)) that may make religious accommodation cases easier for an employee to prove.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires companies to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and practices unless that accommodation would place an undue burden on the company. The question of “undue burden” is the frequent subject of lawsuits. Prior to June 2023, courts routinely held that virtually any reason put forth by the company as an undue burden, even what the courts called a “de minimis” (tiny, minimal) burden, would prevent the employee from successfully pursuing a claim. So if an employee needed Sundays off to attend religious services, then all the company needed to say was that accommodating that request was jes’ a bit too much for that little ol’ multi-billion dollar company to handle. And the courts would dismiss the case.
But the Supreme Court has finally clarified what “undue burden” actually means. In Groff, the employee Gerald Groff was an Evangelical Christian who worked for the U.S. Postal Service. The Postal Service did not deliver on Sunday at first, but in 2013, they entered into a contract with Amazon to handle Sunday delivery, and Groff was required to work on Sundays. His request for a religious accommodation (based on his belief that he could transport goods on Sunday) was denied, and so he quit.
The Court held in 2023 that standard was on the company to prove a substantial hardship in order to avoid providing the religious accommodations, which is a much higher burden on the company. For employees, this should make the prospect for bringing a religious accommodation claim a bit more viable. Hopefully at least, this will result in additional meritorious claims being filed (as the de minimis standard likely caused fewer employees to bother bringing such claims to the EEOC), thereby further holding employers accountable for illegal behavior under Title VII.
If you’ve requested religious accommodations and been denied unjustly, you have only 300 days in which to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC (if you work in South Carolina). Don’t delay in reaching out to a South Carolina employment lawyer to discuss your case in further detail.