September 28, 2022
Issue: Religious Freedom
Muslim, Sikh Groups to Supreme Court: Restore Workplace Religious Freedom Protections
Washington D.C. — Last week, Muslim Advocates, the Sikh Coalition and The Religious Freedom Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit a 1977 decision that has allowed employers to easily deny requests for religious accommodations that impose “more than a de minimis cost” on an employer for nearly half a century. The brief was filed in response to Groff v. DeJoy, a case the Supreme Court will consider involving an evangelical Christian postal worker who was punished for refusing to work on Sundays—as required by his faith. The brief notes that Muslim and Sikh workers regularly face similar discrimination by having their requests for religious accommodations routinely denied and urges the court to undo the 1977 decision that has allowed workplace religious discrimination to flourish.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1972 requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of their employees provided it does not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. A 1977 Supreme Court case, Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, made it easier for employers to establish “undue hardship” resulting in the dismissal of religious discrimination claims. Then-Justice Thurgood Marshall noted in his dissent that the ruling “effectively nullif[ied]” Title VII’s faith-based protections and defied “simple English usage” by allowing an employer to deny a religious accommodation imposing a de minimis standard. In the years since, even the smallest inconveniences to employers have been successfully used to support the denial of religious accommodations in the workplace. The brief filed by Muslim Advocates, Sikh Coalition and IRF asks the Supreme Court to correct the wrong-headed 1977 decision and rule that employers can only deny religious accommodations when the request would impose a genuinely serious hardship on the business—as intended by Congress with the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
“Some of the most wealthy and powerful businesses routinely deny American Muslim workers the ability to practice their faith based on the flimsiest of excuses. This has meant that for nearly 50 years, Muslim workers have been denied religious accommodations resulting in them being unable to wear religious garb, take breaks to pray and take time off for important religious holidays because of reasons as small as a minor inconvenience to a colleague,” said Muslim Advocates Supervising Staff Attorney Stephanie Correa. “We call on the Supreme Court to restore the true spirit of the Civil Rights Act and ensure that workplaces finally honor our nation’s founding ideals of religious freedom and equal treatment. An employee should not have to choose between compromising their religious beliefs and keeping their job.”
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.