SCOTUS Rules in Favor of the Hijab and Religious Freedom

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Muslim woman who sued after being denied employment because she wore a hijab.

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In an 8-1 decision (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an employer may not refuse to hire an applicant based on religious beliefs and practices.

At issue was a black headscarf, or hijab, that Samantha Elauf wore during a job interview. Elauf did not specifically say that she is Muslim and was denied employment because the hijab violated the company’s “Look Policy” for sales staff, which prohibited employees from wearing head coverings. Elauf filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Abercrombie & Fitch was charged with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964.

Under Title VII, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Employers must provide a reasonable accommodation so long as that accommodation does not place “an undue hardship” on the company. The question was whether or not the employer was required to provide an accommodation even when the employee (or prospective employee) did not ask for one.

Ultimately the Supreme Court decided that “an employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.”

Since this case, Abercrombie has made improvements to their store associate policies by replacing the “Look Policy” with a new dress code that allows associates to be more individualistic. Abercrombie has “a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and consistent with the law, has granted numerous religious accommodations when requested, including hijabs.”

What Employers Should Know

In 2014, employers paid more than $500 million in fines to settle all EEOC discrimination cases.

The EEOC has created a fact sheet on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace to assist employees and employers in understanding their rights and obligations about accommodations for religious observances.

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