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Groff v. DeJoy is the rare Supreme Court decision that every Jew can celebrate

(JTA) — In one of its most anticipated cases of the year, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Groff v. DeJoy last month, significantly expanding the federal protections afforded religious employees in the workplace. The decision itself was unanimous, reflecting a broad consensus that employers should be doing more than previously required when it comes to accommodating religious employees.

Jewish organizations from across the ideological spectrum — from Agudath Israel and the Orthodox Union to the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — applauded the ruling as providing long-elusive workplace protections. This new ruling will no longer allow employers to avoid providing accommodations simply because it comes at some minimal cost. Employers will now have to prove such costs are substantial when considered in the broader context of their business.

When Gerald Groff took his job at the U.S. Postal Service, he was not required to work on Sundays. However, after the Postal Service subsequently entered an agreement to deliver packages for Amazon on Sundays, Groff was informed that he could no longer take off on his Sunday Sabbath, as was his custom, which ultimately led to his termination. 

The crux of the case revolved around two words in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: “undue hardship.” According to the text of Title VII, employers are required to accommodate the religious practices of their employees, but only if providing such an accommodation does not present an “undue hardship” to their business. In this way, federal law balances the religious needs of the employee against the business necessities of the employer. And the words “undue hardship,” at least on their face, imply that the employers are expected to endure some hardship in order to accommodate religious employees, but that obligation ends once the hardship to the employer’s business becomes “undue.”

While the text of the law appears to impose modest, but important obligations on employers, the Supreme Court — back in a 1977 case, TWA v. Hardison — provided a contorted interpretation of Title VII that required far less of employers. Somewhat counterintuitively, the Court appeared to hold that providing a religious accommodation imposed an “undue hardship” on the employer any time it required the employer to “bear more than a de minimis cost” — that is, a trivial or minor cost. As a result, if an employer could demonstrate a religious accommodation entailed even a trivial cost, she was off the hook. The court’s decision in Hardison rejected an employee’s claim to have his Sabbath accommodated.

Hardison’s stingy standard, and its significant consequences for American Jews in the workplace, is precisely why so many Jewish organizations with varying political outlooks – including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, National Council of Young Israel, Orthodox Union (full disclosure: I co-authored the Orthodox Union’s amicus brief), and the Zionist Organization of America — all filed amicus briefs before the Court in Groff. As these briefs emphasized, the lack of meaningful protections for religious employees had, over the years, repeatedly forced American Jews to choose between their faith and their livelihood, most notably when it came to observing the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. 

But in Groff, the Supreme Court overhauled the standard for employers: According to the decision, an employer must accommodate a religious employee unless doing so imposes “a burden [that] is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business.” (Emphasis added.) 

So what does this all mean for the future of religious accommodation in the workplace? 

As the solicitor general noted during oral arguments, there are three broad categories where employees typically seek religious accommodations: scheduling changes such as those required to facilitate Sabbath observance; dress and grooming policies such as kippahs and hijabs in the workplace; and religious expression in the workplace, which might include an employee’s desire to display (or avoid) some sort of religious symbol or message. 

Under the new standard, employers who seek to reject such requests will have to demonstrate that granting these religious accommodations would impose substantial costs. Considerations like administrative costs and modest financial expenditures will be insufficient justification for denying such requests. This impact will likely be felt most directly when it comes to requests to accommodate Sabbath observances. The Court’s opinion indicates that employers will have to consider voluntary shift swaps and modest incentives — such as overtime payments — in order to accommodate a Sabbath-observing employee.

Importantly, this will vary significantly by occupation. For example, while a postal worker might reasonably request time off for the Sunday Sabbath, a coach in the NFL, where games are mostly played on Sundays, cannot.

Similarly, determining whether the financial burdens of accommodation are truly significant will also depend on context. Costs that might be significant for a local grocery store may not be significant for a corporate behemoth like Amazon. Those differences will matter when deciding how much an employer will have to expend when accommodating a particular religious practice. 

Finally, the court emphasized that accommodations that trigger deep dissatisfaction from employees — and thereby significantly affect the employer’s business — can qualify as a substantial cost and justify an employer’s decision to deny an accommodation. But the court was careful to constrain these sorts of considerations: An employer cannot claim that she can’t accommodate a religious employee because other employees have expressed dissatisfaction that is based upon their “animosity to a particular religion, to religion in general, or to the very notion of accommodating religious practice.” To countenance such bias or hostility would undermine the very purposes of the law — and, in the words of the court, put Title VII “at war with itself.”

To be sure, the significance of Groff is somewhat blunted given that many states have already adopted heightened standards for when religious employees must be accommodated. Before Groff, many employees could still leverage state law protections to secure accommodations. An amicus brief filed by 22 states noted that states with broader protections had not faced significant challenges in administering such legal regimes. 

Still, the court’s decision will likely provide long overdue protections to religious employees — fulfilling the long-overdue promise of Title VII. Most notably, the decision likely ensures that religious minorities — whose observances are often out of step with the rhythm of the modern workplace  — need not cast aside their religious commitments as the price of employment. 

This new standard is mindful of context and careful not to require substantial costs that might undermine a business. At the same time, the court’s decision is clear that employers cannot hide behind minor inconveniences to ignore the requests of their religious employees. 

In sum, the court’s decision in Groff — and unanimously so — asks employers and employees to find workable solutions to conflicts between business objectives and faith commitments. In that way, it may provide a useful blueprint for navigating a host of recurring social conflicts across the human condition.

The post Groff v. DeJoy is the rare Supreme Court decision that every Jew can celebrate appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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250,000 Palestinians have left Rafah since the partial withdrawal of the IDF

Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to the war provoked by Hamas’s terror attacks, shelter in a tent camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, December 29, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Shadi Tabatibi

i24 NewsSince the partial withdrawal of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from the Gaza Strip, approximately 250,000 Palestinians have relocated from the town of Rafah to other areas further north, particularly between Nuseirat and Khan Younes, south of the Wadi Gaza line.

This mass exodus follows the peak of the military operation in the Gaza Strip when Rafah was home to 1.3 million Palestinians.

Reports from Kan 11 channel indicate that Israel has approved an action plan in Rafah, allegedly in exchange for refraining from a large-scale attack against Iran. However, Biden administration officials have refuted these claims, stating that there has been no discussion of such a deal between Israel and the United States.

In response to the population movement, Israel has announced plans to establish 10,000 tents in the area outside Rafah within the next two weeks. Additionally, an additional 30,000 tents are being acquired for deployment at a later date.

Initially, the IDF intended to distribute leaflets urging residents of Rafah to leave the area this week.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opted to postpone this action to ensure continued American support in potential retaliatory measures against Iran following an attack attributed to the country.

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US House Passes $95 Billion Ukraine, Israel Aid Package, Sends to Senate

House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks to members of the media at the Capitol building, April 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday with broad bipartisan support passed a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from Republican hardliners.

The legislation now proceeds to the Democratic-majority Senate, which passed a similar measure more than two months ago. U.S. leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell had been urging embattled Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure next week, sending it to Biden to sign into law.

The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish U.S. weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his thanks, saying U.S. lawmakers moved to keep “history on the right track.”

“The vital U.S. aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger,” Zelensky said on X.

It was unclear how quickly the new military funding for Ukraine will be depleted, likely causing calls for further action by Congress.

Biden, who had urged Congress since last year to approve the additional aid to Ukraine, said in a statement: “It comes at a moment of grave urgency, with Israel facing unprecedented attacks from Iran and Ukraine under continued bombardment from Russia.”

The vote on passage of the Ukraine funding was 311-112. But significantly, 112 Republicans opposed the legislation, with only 101 in support.

“Mike Johnson is a lame duck… he’s done,” far-right Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told reporters afterward.

She has been a leading opponent of helping Ukraine in its war against Russia and has taken steps that threaten to remove Johnson from office over this issue. Greene stopped short of doing so on Saturday, however.

During the vote, several lawmakers waved small Ukrainian flags as it became clear that element of the package was headed to passage. Johnson warned lawmakers that was a “violation of decorum.”

Meanwhile, the House’s actions during a rare Saturday session put on display some cracks in what generally is solid support for Israel within Congress. Recent months have seen leftist Democrats express anger with Israel‘s government and its conduct of the war in Gaza.

But Saturday’s vote, in which the Israel aid was passed 366-58, had 37 Democrats and 21 Republicans in opposition.

Passage of the long-awaited legislation was closely watched by U.S. defense contractors, who could be in line for huge contracts to supply equipment for Ukraine and other U.S. partners.

Johnson this week chose to ignore ouster threats by hardline members of his fractious 218-213 majority and push forward the measure that includes Ukraine funding as it struggles to fight off a two-year Russian invasion.

The unusual four-bill package also includes a measure that includes a threat to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok and the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.

Some hardline Republicans voicing strong opposition to further Ukraine aid argued the United States can ill afford it given its rising $34 trillion national debt. They have repeatedly raised the threat of ousting Johnson, who became speaker in October after his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted by party hardliners.

“It’s not the perfect legislation, it’s not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House,” Johnson told reporters on Friday. “This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations.”

Representative Bob Good, chair of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Friday that the bills represent a “slide down into the abyss of greater fiscal crisis and America-last policies that reflect Biden and (Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer and (House Democratic leader Hakeem) Jeffries, and don’t reflect the American people.”

But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who carries huge influence in the party, on April 12 voiced support for Johnson and in a Thursday social media post said Ukraine’s survival is important for the U.S.

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Amid Increased Pressure, Hamas Leadership Reportedly Mulls Leaving Qatar

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani makes statements to the media with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Doha, Qatar, Oct. 13, 2023. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

i24 NewsThe political leadership mulls moving its base of operations out of Qatar, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. It is understood the Gulf state is increasingly pressurizing the terror chiefs to accept a hostage-for-truce deal with Israel.

The report quoted an unnamed Middle Eastern official as saying the Hamas politburo chiefs were mulling a move to Oman.

“The talks have already stalled again with barely any signs or prospects for them to resume any time soon, and distrust is rising between Hamas and the negotiators,” the source was quoted as saying.

“The possibility of the talks being upended entirely is very real,” another Arab official told WSJ.

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