The United States Supreme Court rules against Abercrombie & Fitch in a case of religious discrimination.
Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., operates several lines of clothing stores, each with its own “style.” Consistent with the image Abercrombie seeks to project for each store, the company imposes a Look Policy that governs its employees’ dress. Abercrombie’s Look Policy prohibits employees from wearing “caps” as too informal for Abercrombie’s desired image. Samantha Elauf is a practicing Muslim woman who wears a headscarf consistent with her religious obligations. Elauf applied for a position in an Abercrombie store, and was interviewed by the store’s assistant manager. Based on Abercrombie’s ordinary system for evaluating applicants, Elauf received a rating that qualified her to be hired. However, Abercrombie decided not to hire Elauf because her headscarf conflicted with Abercrombie’s employee dress policy.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit suit on Elauf’s behalf for religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Elauf holding that the Civil Rights Act prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that it could accommodate without undue hardship.
The Court concluded that an employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice a factor in employment decisions. To prevail on such a claim, an applicant must show only that his or her need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision. This applies regardless of whether the employer had knowledge of the prospective employee’s need for an accommodation.
Elauf was awarded $20,000 in damages at trial.