In one day, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings that figure to have significant repercussions on the workplace.
In a June 29 ruling that NBC News described as “the culmination of a decades-long effort to end the consideration of race in admissions,” the Court struck down affirmative action programs at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and Harvard, ruling that both programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
With its decision, the court “effectively overturned the 2003 ruling Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the court said race could be considered as a factor in the admissions process, because universities had a compelling interest in maintaining diverse campuses,” wrote NBC News’ Lawrence Hurley.
“In doing so, the court scrapped decades of precedent, including one ruling dating back to 1978, that upheld a limited consideration of race in university admissions as a way to combat historic discrimination against Black people and other minorities.”
The same day, the highest court in the land also ruled in the case of Groff v. DeJoy, which centered around protections for employees seeking religious accommodations on the job.
The plaintiff, Gerald Groff, was a United States Postal Service (USPS) mail carrier in Quarryville, Pa., who was at one point told that he would need to start delivering Amazon packages on Sunday as part of his job. (Since 2013, the USPS has contracted with Amazon to deliver packages, including on Sundays.)
Groff declined to do so, “saying his Sundays are for church and family,” according to AP News. The USPS made initial efforts to find substitutes to work Groff’s assigned Sunday shifts, but the agency couldn’t always accommodate Groff’s requests. Groff refused to show up for work on Sundays, which, according to the USPS, created more work for other agency employees. Groff eventually quit and sued for religious discrimination. The Supreme Court decision throws out a lower court ruling that rejected Groff’s claims.
Considering the Consequences
Reactions to the June 29 decisions were swift. Politically speaking, opinions were generally split along party and ideological lines.
For example, prominent conservatives praised the Harvard ruling, NBC News reported, noting that former President Donald Trump said the decision marked “a great day for America.”
Conversely, current President Joe Biden called the verdict a “severe disappointment,” adding that his administration would be providing guidance for academic institutions seeking to maintain diversity efforts without violating the recent ruling.
The Groff ruling has sparked debate over “whether religious people are more morally deserving than others to weekend days off from work,” as Reuters has noted in its coverage of the case.
In terms of likely effects on the workplace, however, the consensus seems clear that these two rulings will have a significant impact.
For example, the court’s decision in Groff “bolstered the ability of employees to obtain accommodations at work for their religious practices,” according to Reuters.
With a 9-0 decision, “the justices made clear that workers who ask for accommodations, such as taking the Sabbath off, should get them unless their employers show doing so would result in ‘substantial increased costs’ to the business,” AP News’ Jessica Gresko wrote.
“The court made clear that businesses must cite more than minor costs … to reject requests for religious accommodations at work. Unlike most cases before the court, both sides in the case had agreed businesses needed to show more.”
Meanwhile, Forbes noted that experts have already speculated the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the affirmative action case will have a “chilling effect” on organizations that “will grow concerned about lawsuits against diverse hiring practices and initiatives to improve diversity.”
Alvin Tillery, political science professor and director of Northwestern’s Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy, told Forbes that such lawsuits are all but inevitable, but said he expects that employers will still be able to “set targets and baseline goals around diversifying their workplace.”
That said, Tillery noted that organizations “genuinely committed to doing the work will find a way to continue amid backlash, likely by reframing their practices to ‘drop the diversity angle’ and [focusing] on the requirement to not discriminate through the Civil Rights Act.”
Don Harris, associate dean and equity, diversity and inclusion liaison at the Temple University School of Law, told Forbes that the consequences of the decision—which was narrowly focused on academic admission practices—should not extend to employers’ hiring or diversity practices. He did warn, however, that the ruling could open the door to future litigation targeting diversity practices in other fields, according to Forbes.
“The writing’s on the wall,” Harris told the business publication. “It’s a recipe for allowing people to then start bringing other cases before the court.”
30 June 2023
HR News Article