Following years of litigation, the US Supreme Court ruled on Monday, June 1, in favor of a Muslim woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie & Fitch Co for putting on a Hijab.
“We welcome this historic ruling in defense of religious freedom at a time when the American Muslim community is facing increased levels of Islamophobia,” Nihad Awad, National Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net.
“We applaud Samantha’s courage in standing up for her rights by contacting CAIR, which led to the EEOC lawsuit and to our amicus brief filed with the court.”
Based on 8-1 vote, the court ruling was a victory to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that sued the company on behalf of Samantha Elauf.
“[R]eligious practice is one of the protected characteristics that cannot be accorded disparate treatment and must be accommodated. . .Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices — that they be treated no worse than other practices. Rather, it gives them favored treatment. . .Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation,” the court said in part.
Elauf case dates back to 2008 when she applied for a job as Abercrombie & Fitch sales associate in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Donning a headscarf, the then 17-year-old girl was rejected for failing to look like “model” employee according to the retailer “look policy.”
Bringing her case to the US Supreme Court, the federal government charges that the retailer discriminated “when it intentionally refused to hire Samantha Elauf because of her hijab, after inferring correctly that Elauf wore the hijab for religious reasons.”
Backed by the US Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, Abercrombie & Fitch contends that employers should not be forced to inquire about a job applicant’s religion, for fear of appearing to discriminate.
The court examined whether Elauf was required to ask for a religious accommodation in order for the company to be sued under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans employment discrimination based on religious beliefs and practices.
In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court ruled that Elauf needed only to show that her need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.
“A request for accommodation … may make it easier to infer motive, but it is not a necessary condition of liability,” Scalia wrote.
Justice Clarence Thomas, the sole dissenter, argued that “mere application of a neutral policy” should not be viewed as discrimination.
Welcoming the new ruling, Muslim groups warned that employment discrimination against Muslims is widespread in the United States.
“The Supreme Court rightly underscored that a job applicant’s religious beliefs and practices must play no role in an employer’s hiring decision,” said CAIR’s Senior Staff Attorney William Burgess.
“A company engages in illegal employment discrimination when it decides not to hire someone out of a desire to avoid accommodating his or her religious needs, confirmed or not.”
Groups representing Christians, Jews and Sikhs also filed court papers backing Elauf.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Abercrombie has repeatedly faced legal trouble because its discrimination policies.
In September 2013, a federal judge in California ruled that the fashion mogul has violated work anti-discrimination laws when it fired a veiled Muslim woman, Hani Khan, from San Mateo store.
In a similar case in 2008, a Muslim woman said a manager at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in Milpitas, California, had written “not Abercrombie look” on her interview form and refused to hire her after she applied for a job.
In 2010, US authorities sued the company for discrimination over the incident.
United States is the home to from 7-8 million Muslims. ONISLAM