Monday, June 1, 2015

Supreme Court Rules Employers Cannot Refuse to Hire Job Applicants Because of Headscarves Worn in Observance of Their Religion

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Abercrombie acted in violation of Title VII when it refused to hire Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, because she wore a headscarf for religious reasons.

Ms. Elauf had applied for a position with an Abercrombie store in the fall of 2007. During her interview she scored well enough to be hired, but the store’s assistant manager charged with interviewing Ms. Elauf was concerned about the headscarf Ms. Elauf wore. Under Abercrombie’s “Look Policy” for employees “caps” are prohibited. The assistant manager asked the district manager whether she could hire an applicant even if the applicant wore a headscarf. The district manager responded that the Look Policy barred all head coverings, including headscarves worn for religious reason, and directed the assistant manager to reject Ms. Elauf’s application.

The EEOC sued Abercrombie on Ms. Elauf’s behalf, arguing that Abercrombie’s refusal to hire her was a violation of Title VII. The relevant portion of Title VII states that it is a violation of the act “to fail or refuse to hire … any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual… because of such individual’s … religion.”

The EEOC won a summary judgment in District Court. But, Abercrombie successfully argued to the Tenth Circuit that because Ms. Elauf had not requested an accommodation their decision not to hire her was not a violation of Title VII. The Supreme Court, however, disagreed.

Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, said that a job applicant “need only show that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision” to prove discrimination in violation of Title VII. Justice Scalia added that while evidence a job applicant had requested an accommodation made motive easier to prove, it was not a prerequisite to demonstrating liability. Ultimately, the court determined that an employer cannot use “actual knowledge, a well-founded suspicion or merely a hunch” about an applicant’s religion in making employment decisions. Justice Thomas was the lone dissenter.

Bryan Schwartz Law has previously represented Sarabjit Kaur, a Sikh woman, who like Ms. Elauf faced employment discrimination because of her religious head covering. We see the Supreme Court’s decision in Abercrombie as key to ensuring that people of all religions can pursue employment free from discrimination, and hope employers will take note of this decision.

If you have concerns that your employer is discriminating against you because of your religion, or that you were not hired because you require a religious accommodation, please contact Bryan Schwartz Law

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