The Supreme Court of the United States recently heard oral arguments in a workplace discrimination case. The case, EEOC v. Abercrombie, centers on Samantha Elauf, who was denied employment at an Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2008. Elauf, a practicing Muslim, applied for a position as a model at the Abercrombie store, but was not hired because she was wearing a hijab (a black headscarf), which is out of sorts with the company’s “look policy.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought suit on her behalf, arguing that Abercrombie violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by failing to accommodate Elauf’s religious beliefs,
In its defense, Abercrombie argued that Elauf did not inform the managers that she wore the headscarf for religious purposes and that she needed reasonable accommodations. Abercrombie also argued that allowing her to wear the headscarf would have caused the company undue hardship. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Abercrombie’s arguments, reversing a federal district court’s opinion that sided with the EEOC.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, which will decide whether employers have to ask prospective workers if they need religious accommodation or if it is up to job seekers to inform potential employers of any religious conflicts.
During oral arguments, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that an employer can tell a perspective employee about a company’s look policy during the interview and ask if the individual has a problem with it without probing about religion.
Chief Justice John Roberts, on the other hand, suggested that if an employer engages in a religious conversation with a prospective employee, as the EEOC says Abercrombie should have done, this might promote stereotyping.
The Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in this case will help define religious freedoms in the workplace.