The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a 17-year-old Muslim girl, Samantha Elauf, who was not hired for a position at clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a black headscarf to a job interview. While Ms. Elauf wore the headscarf for religious reasons, the headscarf did not conform to Abercrombie’s dress code – its “Look Policy.”. The Court, led by Justice Scalia, ruled 8-1 in favor of the teen.
At the time Ms. Elauf applied for the job in 2008, Abercrombie sales applicants were scored according to his or her looks as part of the hiring process. Sales people had to comply with the Look Policy if they were hired.
Before Ms. Elauf applied for the job, she asked a friend who knew the store’s assistant manager whether or not she would be allowed to wear her headscarf at work. The store’s assistant manager said it probably wouldn’t be an issue, so the teen applied in Oklahoma. When Ms. Elauf wore her headscarf to the interview and her appearance was not brought up. The interview went well, but the interviewer asked the store manager’s advice because the headscarf did not comply with the store’s dress code. The store manager did not have an answer, so the district manager was consulted, and told the store manager that the headscarf would violate the policy, as would all other headwear. The teen was not hired as a result of the headscarf issue.
The Supreme Court ruled that the teen could show she was discriminated against by showing that her religious beliefs were a motivating factor in the reason the store did not hire her. Abercrombie argued that it did not discriminate against the teen because it had a “no headwear” policy that applied to everyone. The Court dismissed that argument, holding that federal law “does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices—that they be treated no worse than other practices. Rather, it gives them favored treatment affirmatively obligating employers not ‘to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual . . . because of such individual’s’ ‘religious observance and practice.’…[the law] requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation. ”
Abercrombie also claimed that allowing the teen to hear her headscarf at work would pose an undue hardship. The Court dismissed that argument as well. The Court ordered that the case be sent back to the lower court for further consideration.
Abercrombie has done away with its dress code policy in recent years. The company has had a perception of being exclusionary, which the company is trying to overcome, as the company attempts to revitalize sales. Ms. Elauf, who currently works for clothing retailer Urban Outfitters, said she had never felt discriminated against by any other employer. Ms. Elauf plans a career in the fashion industry.
This case should serve as an example to other employers that they cannot discriminate against an employee or a potential employee based upon the individual’s religion. Instead, they must offer “reasonable accommodation”, such as allowing the employee to wear certain religious items, allowing the employee breaks at prayer times, or allowing an employee to be reassigned to a different job.
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that no employee should be discriminated against because of his or her religious beliefs. If you believe you have suffered religious discrimination at work, call Oakland religious discrimination attorney Micha Star Liberty at Liberty Law. She can be reached at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. Call her today to schedule a free consultation or to learn more about your case. She works with clients throughout the Bay area, including San Jose, Hayward, Fairfield, Tracy, and the surrounding areas.