The Supreme Court has ruled 8-1 in favor of a young Muslim woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a headscarf.
Samantha Elauf had applied for the sales job in Tulsa, Okla., in 2008 and was recommended for hire by an interviewer. But Abercrombie has a “look policy” that bars the wearing of caps by its salespeople.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took up the case, and the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of Elauf, awarding her $20,000 in damages. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, concluding that an employer cannot be held liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for failing to accommodate a religious practice until the applicant provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation.
Here is how NPR’s Nina Totenberg explained the case when it was argued last February:
“Abercrombie defends its action, citing its so-called look policy, which bans caps and black clothing. Elauf’s dress for the interview — a T-shirt and jeans — fit well with that policy, which is described as ‘classic East Coast collegiate style of clothing.’ But her headscarf did not fit at all. The policy does not allow caps, terming them ‘too informal for the image we project.’
“Abercrombie maintains that if Elauf wanted a religious exception allowing her to wear her headscarf, it was up to her to make the case at the time of her interview. Elauf responds that she didn’t even know about the look policy, and that deliberately downgrading an otherwise highly rated applicant because of a religious practice violates the federal law banning religious discrimination in employment.”
The high court’s opinion states that:
“Religious practice is one of the protected characteristics that cannot be accorded disparate treatment and must be accommodated.”