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Supreme Court Sides with Muslim Woman in Hijab Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court voted 8-1 to revive a lawsuit filed against Abercrombie & Fitch for employment discrimination of a Muslim American woman who wears a hijab.  The court’s opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, notes that the retail company’s refusal to hire the woman was in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, INC. by Reed Law

This case began in 2008 when 17-year-old Oklahoma resident Samantha Elauf interviewed for a sales associate position at an Abercrombie & Fitch location. Elauf claimed that the store did not hire her because she wore a hijab as part of her religious observance, which violated the company’s “Look Policy.” At the time, the store’s policy forbade employees from wearing any head coverings; the store claims that this policy has since been revised (Elauf was not informed of this wardrobe caveat during the interview). Elauf filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who then sued Abercrombie & Fitch for discrimination based on religious belief.  The EEOC won the original lawsuit and Elauf was awarded $22,000 in damages.

However, the retailer appealed the ruling, and an appeals court ruled that Abercrombie was not at fault because Elauf never explicitly specified her religious beliefs to company during her job interview.  The U.S. Solicitor General pushed to have this case heard by the Supreme Court due to a fear that the appeal decision would have negative implications on hiring discrimination.

Justice Scalia called this case an “easy” decision.  In the near-unanimous vote (with Justice Clarence Thomas as the sole dissenter), the Court decided that the retailer did not hire Elauf because it did not want to make an accommodation for her religious beliefs, arguing that Elauf did not need to specify her religious practices to the potential employer.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that this case was a clear example of discrimination because even though the company never inquired about Elauf’s beliefs, the hiring manager admitted that Elauf’s hiring score decreased because the hijab she wore did not conform to the look policy.  This admission implies that the company at least suspected Elauf’s religious beliefs.  Scalia wrote, “”…to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.”