On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Samantha Elauf, who sued the clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch for refusing to hire her because she wore a religious head covering.
Elauf applied for a job in 2008, when she was 17-years-old, at an Abercrombie Kids clothing store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She reportedly wore a black hijab (a head-scarf) to her interview, which the clothing company claimed violated their “look policy.”
This policy has rules on everything from clothing that employees can wear, to hairstyle, makeup and nail polish choices.
During the interview, Elauf’s hijab never came up. However, when the interviewer, assistant manager Heather Cooke, went to ask her district manager for approval, Cooke pointed out that she assumed that Elauf was Muslim and that she wore the hijab for religious purposes.
It was to this statement that the district manager still rejected Elauf because her hijab violated the “look policy.”
The most significant point in court was then, as Justice Antonin Scalia said, that “an applicant need only show that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need.”
In other words, even though Elauf did not make a case for needing a religious accommodation during her interview (as she claimed she didn’t know about the “look policy” to begin with), she still cannot be dismissed as an applicant because of religious practice.
The final vote on the case was an almost unanimous 8-1, meaning an important win for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who went up against Abercrombie & Fitch on behalf of Elauf.
P. David Lopez, of the EEOC General Council released a statement that says, “Monday’s case is the latest effort to ensure all persons protected by Title VII are not place in the difficult position of choosing between adherence to one’s faith and a job.”
Members of other religious groups including Jews, Christians, and Sikhs have shown support for Elauf, and the decision on her case can impact the future of many businesses and their hiring practices.
*As of 1:30pm on Monday, Abercrombie released a statement saying that they will “determine our next steps in the litigation, which the Supreme Court remanded for further consideration.” The case will continue to be discussed due to Abercrombie’s argument that there was not a clear understanding that Elauf needed an accommodation.