On June 1, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch. The discrimination case examined whether Abercrombie & Fitch Co. improperly denied employment to a woman who wore a head scarf to her interview. The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff has a case against Abercrombie, even if her interviewers did not know for sure that she had religious reasons for the head scarf.
The issues in the case arose when Samantha Elauf sued Abercrombie for not hiring her in 2008. She found out she was not hired because she wore a head scarf to her interview. Abercrombie’s position was that the scarf, along with several other types of headwear, did not comply with its dress code. A federal appeals court heard the case and held there was no religious discrimination because Elauf did not explicitly tell her interviewer that she was wearing the scarf for religious reasons. The Supreme Court disagreed, and sent the case back to the lower court.
According to the Court, the federal law at issue in this case, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, bars employers from refusing to hire someone “because of” her religion. This includes religious observances, such as wearing a head scarf. The Supreme Court wrote that in order for Elauf to show she was not hired because of her religion, she just needs to prove that her need for Abercrombie to accommodate her religious beliefs was a “motivating factor” in its decision not to hire her.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers must accommodate religious needs when it is reasonable. The Court’s ruling underscores the need for businesses to be more attuned to workers’ religious beliefs. Some businesses are worried about this new standard. It has been common practice for employers to avoid asking about religious beliefs to avoid charges of discrimination. However, going forward, not asking could also potentially lead to litigation.
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