Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Religious Accommodations

Lawyer Nat Lewin, who represented the Rebbe in the Hey Teves court case involving the stolen sefarim, helped bring about another win on behalf of all religious workers in America.

The U.S Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling that enhances the protection afforded to religious employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The unanimous decision in the case of Groff v. DeJoy effectively overturns close to fifty years of court decisions that undercut the religious observance – including Sabbath observance – of Americans in the workplace. For decades, Agudath Israel has worked in Congress, state legislatures, and the courts for the outcome of today’s decision. 

The case involved an Evangelical Christian mailman who resigned from the United States Postal Service after facing disciplinary action arising from his refusal to work on Sundays and sued the Postmaster General for damages. The lower courts dismissed the claim, citing the statutory standard that an employer is required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practice unless that would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer, and the 1977 TWA v. Hardison case, where “undue hardship” was defined as merely “more than a de minimis cost,” or more than a “trivial burden.”  

In the Groff decision, the Supreme Court rejected the weak protection afforded by the “more than de minimis” standard. Instead, it clarified that “undue hardship” is to be defined as “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of [an employer’s] particular business.”  

The repudiation of the “more than de minimis” Hardison standard was the major goal of the amicus curiae “friend of the court” brief authored by Nathan Lewin, Esq. on behalf of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (“COLPA”), which was joined by Agudath Israel of America and a number of other Jewish organizations.

As noted by the Court, the more than de minimis standard has harmed countless Americans of faith – including Orthodox Jews — in the decades since Hardison was decided.  Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director, Rabbi Abba Cohen, explained, “The previous standard was the key obstacle to providing religious employees of all faiths the protection the law offered. The standard was so low that employers didn’t even bother trying to accommodate the employees, and employees didn’t bother asserting their rights, knowing that they would suffer aggravation and expense on a losing case. Now, we are confident that the law better reflects what Congress desired and intended when it sought to protect the rights of religiously observant employees.” 

“Today’s ruling will undoubtedly have a direct impact on countless individuals who will enjoy greater protection in the workplace as a result of the Court’s decision,” said Daniel Kaminetsky, Esq., Agudath Israel’s General Counsel.

Credit is due to Mr. Lewin, who has worked on this issue for nearly the past half-century. He authored a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community in the Hardison case, and several others over the years, culminating finally in the brief leading to today’s ruling.

“The history of American Jewry cannot be told without marking the struggle for religious observance,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudah’s Executive Vice President. “And the history of that struggle cannot be told without noting the extraordinary contributions of Nat Lewin.” 

In keeping in line with the Rabbonim's policies for websites, we do not allow comments. However, our Rabbonim have approved of including input on articles of substance (Torah, history, memories etc.)

We appreciate your feedback. If you have any additional information to contribute to this article, it will be added below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

advertise package