WASHINGTON, D.C., June 1, 2015 – According to the New York Times, The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the retail chain Abercrombie & Fitch (“Abercrombie”) violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when an assistant manager denied Samantha Elauf, an observant Muslim woman, a job because she wore a hijab.
Ms. Elauf, then age 17, interviewed for a position on the sales floor at Abercrombie Kids in 2008 at her local mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ms. Elauf wore a head scarf to the interview, and, as admitted by Abercrombie, was denied the job because her hijab violated Abercrombie’s “Look Policy,” that prohibits “caps” from being worn on the sales floor and it also clashed with Abercrombie’s “classic East Coast collegiate style.”
In response to Ms. Elauf’s denial of a position, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) sued Abercrombie for religious discrimination. In its own defense, Abercrombie stated that it had no way of knowing that the head scarf was a part of her faith, and therefore should not be considered at fault.
As a result of the EEOC’s lawsuit, Ms. Elauf was awarded $20,000 by a jury. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, overturned the decision and explained that the trial judge should have dismissed the case before trial, because, as per Judge Jerome A. Holmes, “Ms. Elauf never informed Abercrombie before its hiring decision that she wore her head scarf, or ‘hijab,’ for religious reasons.”
However, the Supreme Court disagreed in an 8-1 majority (excluding Clarence Thomas).
In announcing his decision from the bench, Justice Scalia said, “This is really easy … Title VII forbids adverse employment decisions made with a forbidden motive, whether this motive derives from actual knowledge, a well-founded suspicion or merely a hunch.”
On behalf of seven justices, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Here the employer at least suspected that the practice was a religious one; its refusal to hire was motivated by the desire to avoid accommodating that practice, and that is enough … An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.
The Supreme Court has now sent the case back to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit for further consideration. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling indicates that Ms. Elauf is most likely to prevail.
“At its root, this case is about defending the quintessentially American principles of religious freedom and tolerance,” David Lopez, general counsel for the EEOC, said in a statement. “This decision is a victory for our increasingly diverse society and we applaud Samantha Elauf’s courage and tenacity in pursuing this matter.”