There are two main takeaways for employers from the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow the highly publicized religious discrimination case against Abercrombie & Fitch to gain new life. 

The takeaways are:

  1. Employers can’t take an adverse action against an employee or job applicant when the motivation behind the action is to avoid having to accommodate one of the person’s religious practices. The Supreme Court ruled that employers have to explore possible religious accommodations when they have at least some idea that a person would require such an accommodation.
  2. Employees and job applicants don’t need to explicitly state the need for a religious accommodation to trigger an employer’s obligation to seek out possible accommodations. Again, the High Court ruled all an employer needs is an inkling that a person would need a religious accommodation for that employer to then be required to consider accommodations.

Woman didn’t conform to ‘Look Policy’

The case involved Samantha Elauf, who applied for a job at the Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store in her hometown of Tulsa, OK.

Elauf wore a head scarf, known as a hijab, as part of her Muslim faith.

The company declined to hire her, claiming the scarf clashed with its “Look Policy” — or dress code — which banned head coverings.

The policy called for employees to have a “classic East Coast collegiate style.”

Elauf then filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging religious discrimination. The EEOC then filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie on her behalf.

The EEOC claimed the company refused to hire her due to her religion and illegally failed to accommodate her religious practice by creating a reasonable exception to its “Look Policy.”

In district court, the EEOC prevailed. It was awarded summary judgment and a jury awarded Elauf $20,000 in damages. The jury ruled that Abercrombie knew about her religious practice and refused to hire her as a result.

But Abercrombie prevailed in appeals court by claiming it didn’t have to relax its “Look Policy” because Elauf never asked it to do so — or even mentioned her religion. Abercrombie argued that Elauf needed to provide explicit, verbal notice of a conflict between the policy and her religious practice.

In siding with Abercrombie, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the earlier jury verdict.

The EEOC then asked the Supreme Court to hear its case, and the court agreed to.

‘Specific request not required’

In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the EEOC, saying Elauf was not required to make a specific request for a religious accommodation.

The court majority said there was enough evidence to show that Abercrombie knew she wore the head scarf as part of her religious practice and refused to hire her to avoid having to accommodate her religious practice.

As a result, the Tenth Circuit has been asked to rehear the case through the lens of the rational used by the Supreme Court.

The High Court’s ruling also stated that if an employer has an idea that an individual would need a religious accommodation, the employer is obligated to explore whether it could reasonably grant such an accommodation — and Abercrombie failed to do that.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter. He wrote in his opinion that Abercrombie’s “Look Policy,” on its face, was neutral — and, therefore, it couldn’t be used as a basis for a religious discrimination lawsuit.

Cite: EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores Inc.

Post Your Resume to 65+ Job Sites
Resume Service

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post