Religious Discrimination Case Goes before the Supreme Court

The nuances of religious discrimination and where responsibility falls now lies in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the case EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., a Muslim woman named Samantha Elauf applied for a job at the retail store Abercrombie & Fitch. When applying for the position, she was wearing a black scarf over her head called a hijab, and consequently was not hired for the job. Her appearance did not fit the company’s dress code requirements. The EEOC sued based on religious discrimination.

Abercrombie & Fitch argued that Elauf made no statement that the head covering was part of her religious practice and for this reason the company was not liable for accommodating her religious beliefs. The EEOC argued that the company should have granted the applicant a religious exemption.

The focus of the issues being brought before the Supreme Court lies in whether the employer is liable when an applicant or employee does not inform the employer of the need for a religious exemption. Documents filed for her application did not state Elauf’s religion and the company instructs staff not to ask applicants about their religion. The black scarf violated the company’s dress code because workers were not allowed to wear hats at work and the color black did not receive a high rating when evaluating an applicant for “appearance and sense of style.” The company argues that the burden was on Elauf for not asking about the company’s dress codes or explaining her religious reason for wearing the head scarf.

The initial court ruling by a federal judge was in the EEOC’s favor and the subsequent US court of appeals ruled in Abercrombe & Fitch’s favor.

This is an important case for employers to follow so they become aware of the outcome and subsequently understand and incorporate the anti-discrimination guidelines decided by the U.S. Supreme Court into their company’s policies.

Stephen Hans & Associates represents companies involved in employment disputes and brings decades of experience to every case we handle.

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