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On February 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a discrimination case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. The EEOC claimed that Abercrombie unlawfully discriminated against a Muslim job applicant, Samantha Elauf, who wore a hijab during a job interview. After Elauf’s interview, the hiring manager recommended her for a sales-floor position. However, after the store’s district manager said that the hijab violated Abercrombie’s “look policy,” the hiring manager lowered Elauf’s “appearance and sense of style” rating. This, in turn, caused Elauf not to get the job.

Abercrombie maintains that it did not discriminate because Elauf did not tell the hiring manager that the hijab was connected to her religious beliefs. However, the retailer’s position may be undermined by the fact that the manager assumed that Elauf wore the headscarf because of her religion.

The Supreme Court will decide whether it is the employee’s duty to mention that he or she needs to be exempted from certain company policies for religious reasons or, whether it is the employer’s responsibility to notify the employee of certain company policies so the employee may then ask for a reasonable accommodation for religious reasons.

What the law says about religious discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from failing to hire, terminating, or otherwise discriminating against employees because of their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

If an interviewee needs to wear a headscarf for religious reasons, her employer must make a reasonable accommodation, or prove that such an accommodation will be an “undue hardship” to business.

Ramifications of the case

The case will establish whether individuals will have to notify potential employers of religious beliefs, which may require a reasonable accommodation.. This is significant because such a rule would place the burden of notification on interviewee who might not know about the various internal company policies.

This case has also brought attention to discrimination that may be inherent in company policy. Abercrombie claims that by rejecting Elauf, it was adhering to its “look policy” and maintaining its brand integrity. However, such a policy may contain subtle and inherent forms of discrimination. In court documents, Abercrombie stated that its brand “exemplifies a classic East Coast collegiate style of clothing” that is “preppy and casual”. While none of these words are explicitly discriminatory, some of them, such as “East Coast” and “preppy” contain subtle economic, racial, and religious implications.

What you should do about religious discrimination

Although religious discrimination in the workplace is illegal, it remains an
unfortunate reality for many employees and jobseekers. If you believe that you have been
discriminated against on the job, contact Akin Law Group immediately to learn about
your rights and options. Our attorneys are passionate about defending the rights of
employees, and will use their extensive legal and courtroom experience to maximize your
chances of getting a recovery. Call us at 866.685.5163 to schedule a free consultation.

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