The recent U.S. Supreme Court term included significant rulings on religious accommodations, Biden’s student debt relief plan, and affirmative action. These Supreme Court rulings will likely have major impacts on employers, altering established labor and employment laws and workplace practices. The following article provides additional information regarding these decisions.
The Supreme Court issued two rulings impacting religious accommodations.
Groff v. DeJoy
In Groff v. DeJoy, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier who sought a religious accommodation. The mail carrier filed the lawsuit after facing disciplinary action for religiously objecting to work on Sundays.
The Supreme Court’s decision makes it easier for employees to seek religious accommodations by creating a higher standard for employers to measure the burden workers’ religious accommodation requests would impose on their businesses.
To deny a religious accommodation under this new standard, an employer must demonstrate that the burden of granting it would result in “substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” The Supreme Court vacated the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decisions and remanded the case for further litigation consistent with its opinion.
303 Creative LLC v. Elenis
In 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, an evangelical Christian web designer refused to design websites for gay couples, although no LGBTQI+ couples had requested the web designer’s services.
This lawsuit challenged the public accommodation provision of Colorado’s Anti-discrimination Act prohibiting businesses from denying services to individuals based on a protected characteristic (e.g., sexual orientation). In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the web designer, holding that she has a free speech right to refuse to endorse messages she disagrees with and, as a result, cannot be punished under Colorado’s Anti-discrimination Act. The Supreme Court’s decision could permit other businesses to evade liability under state laws that protect LGBTQI+ public accommodation rights.
STUDENT LOAN RELIEF PLAN
In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court rejected Biden’s plan to forgive $20,000 in student debt for 40 million borrowers. The Supreme Court found that the Biden administration exceeded its authority in forgiving over $400 billion in student loans.
Chief Justice Roberts stated that the U.S. secretary of education’s authority to modify loan terms couldn’t extend this far. Mass debt cancellation requires congressional approval.
As a result of this rule, millions of Americans will be unable to get their federal student debt forgiven.
The Supreme Court ended affirmative action at UNC and Harvard, likely stopping the use of race in college admissions.
In a 6-3 vote in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina and a 6-2 vote in Students for Fair Admission Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, the Supreme Court ruled that both universities’ affirmative action programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
These decisions effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision of Grutter v. Bollinger, which allows universities to consider race, among other factors, in university admissions because diversity in education is a legitimate aim.
Chief Justice Roberts did not explicitly state overruling past precedents. However, Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion mentioned that Grutter was effectively overturned.
While the Supreme Court’s ruling in these cases will likely not directly affect employers, it could impact workplace diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives, including the ways organizations promote and implement these initiatives in the future as well as employers’ affirmative action programs.
Understanding the Supreme Courts rulings aids employers in adapting to labor law changes, supporting workers, and refining workplace practices. For more information on how these Supreme Court rulings could impact you organization, contact one of our consultants to learn more. You can also follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn or here on the FBS Blog for more employee benefits education resources.