Supreme Court Rules for Woman Denied Job over Headscarf

Date: 6/9/15
Title: Supreme Court Rules for Woman Denied Job over Headscarf

On June 1, 2015 the Supreme Court decided in EEOC’s favor against Abercrombie & Fitch (Abercrombie).  Abercrombie refused to hire the plaintiff, Samantha Elauf, who was a practicing Muslim, because her headscarf conflicted with the company’s dress policy.  Elauf applied for a sales job in Tulsa, OK in 2008 and was recommended for hire by the interviewer.  Abercrombie has a “look policy” that bars the wearing of caps by its salespeople. 

The EEOC filed suit on Elauf’s behalf, alleging a violation of Title VII which prohibits an employer from refusing to hire an applicant because of their religious practice when the practice could be accommodated without undue hardship.  EEOC prevailed in District Court awarding Elauf $20,000 in damages but the decision was reversed in the Tenth Circuit. Abercrombie was afforded summary judgement on the ground that failure-to-accommodate liability attaches only when the applicant provides the employer with actual knowledge of their need for an accommodation.

The Supreme Court decision indicated that to prevail in a disparate treatment claim, an applicant only needs to show that his/her need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of the need.  The employer cannot make the applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.

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