A coalition of Orthodox Jewish groups urged the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday to hear two cases that deal with the issue of accommodation of religious observance in the workplace. The petition to the Court was written by noted constitutional scholar, Nathan Lewin, on behalf of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), in Small v. Memphis Light, Gas and Water, and Dalberiste v. GLE Associates.
Federal law requires “reasonable accommodation” of “religious observance,” unless such accommodation would cause the employer “undue hardship.” The Supreme Court, however, in a decision handed down decades ago, has taken the position that an employer need only show more than a “de minimis” (too minor to merit consideration) burden to be exempted from having to provide the accommodation. This very weak standard established by the Court has for years remained a serious stumbling block for Sabbath-observers and other religiously-observant employees.
The amicus (friend of the court) brief argues that, in light of more recent Supreme Court decisions, the Court should reconsider and overturn its previous ruling. The Orthodox coalition called for a higher, more protective standard to fight discrimination directed toward those in the workplace who are bound by their sincerely-held religious beliefs, practices and observances.
Orthodox Jewish organizations that joined the brief include Agudath Israel of America, Agudas Harabbonim of the United States and Canada, the Coalition for Jewish Values, the National Council of Young Israel, the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, the Rabbinical Council of America, Torah Umesorah, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
“For too many years, employees seeking accommodation of their religious observances have faced profound difficulties because of the Supreme Court’s ‘de minimis’ standard, ultimately depriving them of the full protection the statute was intended to provide,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director. “We urge the Court to hear the case and, at long last, right this wrong.”