Workplace accommodations for religious practices

The US Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the case of EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores. The case has garnered hype and united multiple religious organizations. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, a national clothes store is battling a religious bias lawsuit filed against them by the EEOC on behalf of Samantha Elauf.

The case revolves around employees and job applicants who are discriminated on having religious beliefs and sentiments.
The clothing chain, Abercrombie & Fitch requires its employees to comply with its ‘Look Policy’ that provides certain instructions regarding the dress code in the company. While taking interviews, if it is found that the applicant has a problem with regard to complying with the policy, the interviewer is asked to contact the corporate department that determines if an accommodation can be granted.

In the year 2008, a practicing Muslim Samantha Elauf, applied for a position in the store where they had to follow ‘Look Policy’. While coming for the interview she wore a Hijab/Headscarf which was a reason for her rejection as the interviewer and the district manager lowered Elauf’s rating in the appearance section of the application. This was done as she did not mention anything about the headscarf in her application. Further, she did not indicate that she would need an accommodation based on the company’s Look Policy.

The EEOC sued the company on behalf of Elauf and claimed that the company had violated Title VII of the Civil rights Act of 1964 by refusing to hire the applicant because of her headscarf. The company argued that the applicant had a duty to inform the interviewer whether she required an accommodation from the Look Policy. The district Court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff. However, the Tenth Circuit reversed it and held that summary judgment should have been granted in favor of the company because the job applicant did not notify or indicate the interviewer about the problems she was facing with the look policy or that the policy was in conflict with her religious sentiments.

The EEOC now argues that if the Supreme Court upholds the circuit court’s decision, it would allow companies to discriminate against employees based on religious practices “as long as the employer does not have ‘actual knowledge’ of the need for religious accommodation”.

Since 2008, Abercrombie has settled with two other women who claimed that the company discriminated against them because they wore hijabs. They were awarded combined $71,000, plus attorney fees in September 2013. Also, as part of the settlement, the company agreed to revise its “Look Policy” in order to accommodate hijabs in the workplace.


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