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Religious Liberty Clinic Files Brief Supporting Orthodox Jews' Freedom to Work

The Pepperdine Caruso Law Hugh and Hazel Darling Foundation Religious Liberty Clinic filed an amicus brief on February 28 asking the United States Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Gerald E. Groff v. Louis DeJoy.

The brief, filed on behalf of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (Orthodox Union), urges the Supreme Court to strengthen the rights of religious employees to receive workplace accommodations from their employers that allow them to meet their religious obligations. The brief highlights the particular problems Orthodox Jews have faced under the existing legal standard.

In Groff, the United States Postal Service denied an employee’s request to adjust his work schedule so he could observe the Christian Sabbath. The Clinic’s brief argues that the Supreme Court’s prior holding in the 1977 case TWA v. Hardison allows religious employees to be denied these kinds of reasonable accommodations contrary to the Civil Rights Act’s requirement that religious accommodations be provided to employees where possible. As the brief explains, Orthodox Jews are particularly harmed by the Hardison standard as employers frequently deny requests that would allow Orthodox Jews to observe core tenets of their faith, like refraining from work during Shabbat, or wearing a yarmulke. The Clinic’s brief urges the Supreme Court to overturn Hardison and recognize that Title VII’s standard for employee religious accommodations ought to mirror the standard currently used under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

Caruso Law students Isabel Conrath and Jackson Grasz, working under the supervision of professor Eric Rassbach, drafted the brief. Conrath and Grasz collaborated with professor Michael Helfand, Brennan Mann Foundation Chair in Law and Religion Co-Director for the Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law, and Nathan Diament, Executive Director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the non-partisan public policy arm of the Orthodox Union, the nation's largest Orthodox Jewish organization.

“I am extremely grateful to Professors Rassbach and Helfand for the opportunity to work with Jackson and my other clinic colleagues on a second amicus brief,” stated Conrath. “Participating in this brief to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the Orthodox Union allowed me to apply what I have learned at Pepperdine in the most meaningful way - advocating for religious liberties beloved by all Americans. It is our hope that the nation’s highest court will stand with Orthodox Jews and other individuals of faith in overturning Hardison.”

“It is a tremendous honor to advocate for religious liberty before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of a prominent organization like the Orthodox Union,” stated Grasz. “I am confident that our brief will contribute to protecting the ability of Americans of all faiths, including Orthodox Jews, to faithfully adhere to their religious values while contributing to society through their vocation. I have had a wonderful experience working alongside Isabel, Professors Rassbach and Helfand, Nathan Diament, and my other colleagues in the clinic, and I am grateful to each of them for their contributions that helped craft this brief.”

The brief is one of many amicus briefs filed by the clinic at Pepperdine Caruso Law, which was established in January 2022 with the help of a transformational gift from the Hugh and Hazel Darling Foundation. As part of the school’s Nootbaar Institute for Law, Religion, and Ethics, the Religious Liberty Clinic explores enduring questions relating to how civil governments treat the religious beliefs, expressions, and institutions of their citizens and residents. The clinic offers students the opportunity to work on cutting-edge religious liberty issues in partnership with leading national litigators.

“The promise of America is that everyone can participate fully in the life of our Nation,” said Rassbach. “The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure that all religious Americans–including Orthodox Jews–are able to work in their chosen profession. We are honored to be able to represent the Orthodox Union, and grateful that they are a strong advocate for the rights of both Orthodox Jews and other Americans.”

The full text of Pepperdine Caruso Law’s amicus brief may be found at Groff v. DeJoy.