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Supreme Court rules in favor of woman denied job at Abercrombie because of headscarf

On June 1st, the Supreme Court ruled that Abercrombie and Fitch violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by denying a Muslim woman employment because she wore a headscarf.

The jobseeker, Samantha Elauf, wore a hijab to her job interview for a position at the store. After her interview, the hiring manager recommended that she be placed in a sales floor position. However, the store’s district manager disagreed, stating that the hijab violated Abercrombie’s “Look Policy,” a company-wide dress code that banned workers from wearing “caps” on the sales floor. Because of the district manager’s comments, the hiring manager lowered Elauf’s score on her “appearance and sense of style,” effectively preventing her from being hired.

Abercrombie argued that it did not discriminate against Elauf because it could not have known that her headscarf was related to her religion. It asserted that it was Elauf’s responsibility to notify the hiring manager that she needed to wear a hijab because of her religious beliefs. The retailer’s argument, however, was undermined by the fact that the hiring manager had assumed that Elauf wore the headscarf for religious reasons. Another factor that weakened the retailer’s claims was that the manager openly revealed that the reason she lowered Elauf’s score was because of the headscarf.

The Supreme Court voted 8-1 in Elauf’s favor. 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.”

Case sets important precedent

The Supreme Court’s decision establishes that individuals do not have to explicitly notify employers of religious beliefs and practices that may require exemptions from certain company policies. A woman wearing a headscarf does not need to notify her potential employer that she wears it because of her religious beliefs. As long as the company can reasonably infer that her hijab is connected to her religion, it cannot refuse to hire her because she wears one.

It is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of religion

It is against the Law1 for employers, (including but not limited to companies, managers and supervisors) to discriminate against jobseekers and employees on the basis of their religion or religious beliefs. In addition, employers are obligated to accommodate the reasonable requests of employees related to religious observances. If you have faced religious discrimination at your workplace or at your job, do not hesitate to take action. Call the Akin Law Group at 866-685-5163 as soon as possible to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Our experienced employment lawyers can discuss your case with you, and offer you advice about what to do next.

Footnote 1 – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law

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