Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores
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Meet Samantha Elauf
Samantha Elauf is a fashion blogger who takes her faith seriously. When she was 17, she sought a job at her local mall’s Abercrombie & Fitch. She knew the company dress code prohibited hats but had previously hired a Jewish employee who wore a yarmulke, so she never imagined that her headscarf might be an issue.
The store manager who interviewed Samantha liked her and recommended that she be hired. But when the district manager learned about Samantha’s headscarf, he made the store manager lower Samantha’s scores so she would appear unqualified.
Abercrombie does have a policy that prohibits employees from wearing hats, but they’ve made religious accommodations numerous times in the past. But rather than acknowledge that their district manager erred in refusing to accommodate Samantha, Abercrombie claims she should not be protected by the Civil Rights Act—which prohibits employment discrimination on the grounds of race, national origin, sex, and religion—because she never “explicitly” confirmed in her interview that she wore the scarf for religious reasons. In short, Abercrombie refused to hire Samantha because of her Muslim faith, and now they want a free pass for discrimination.
But anti-discrimination laws have been on the books for over fifty years. These are the same laws championed by Martin Luther King, Jr. that protect our civil rights from discrimination to this day. Abercrombie blatantly denied Samantha Elauf a job on the basis of her religion, and that should not go unchallenged.
In 2011, a federal district court judge ruled in Samantha’s favor, but in October 2013, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. On October 2, 2014, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Samantha’s case.
Protecting Religious Diversity
Becket became involved in this lawsuit for the first time at the Supreme Court. Becket champions religious diversity and defends Samantha’s right to bring her religious identity into her workplace. Religious expression is invaluable and inseparable from the human experience. No American should be forced to leave their faith at the door when they enter the workplace, especially when their religious activity has no impact on their employer’s business. Society will only benefit from protecting religious diversity everywhere, even at the mall.
On June 1, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of religious job seekers. The Court held that a job seeker suing for religious discrimination only has to show that their need for a religious accommodation–such as wearing a headscarf–was a “motivating factor” in the employer’s decision not to hire. Even if the employer is not certain the applicant needs a religious accommodation, they can be liable if they suspect there is a need for religious accommodation and reject the job applicant for that reason. This Supreme Court ruling requires that employers be mindful of the potential religious needs of job applicants and not let the possible need for a religious accommodation influence their employment decisions.
The Solicitor General and Department of Justice represented Samantha.