Samantha Elauf is a practicing Muslim who wears a headscarf for religious reasons. She was interviewed for a position at Abercrombie & Fitch but was denied employment at the retailer’s store because she wore a headscarf, which violated the company’s “Look Policy” that prohibits caps and headscarves in an effort to promote its preppy East Coast collegiate image.
In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., No. 14-86, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Abercrombie & Fitch might have violated workplace discrimination law when it denied Elauf a sales job at an Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (A trial court awarded Elauf $20,000 but the jury award was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver.) The company’s decision not to hire her, the Supreme Court said, was motivated by a desire to avoid accommodating her religious practice. That was enough, the Court decided, to allow Elauf to sue under a federal employment discrimination law.
EEOC General Counsel David Lopez applauded the Court’s ruling. “At its root, this case is about defending the quintessentially American principles of religious freedom and tolerance,” Lopez said. “This decision is a victory for our increasingly diverse society.” Religious discrimination remains an issue in the American workplace. “In fiscal year 2016, EEOC received 3,825 charges alleging discrimination on the basis of religion,” notes the EEOC.
On March 10, the Federal Bar Association will present a panel titled “Religious Discrimination in the Workplace—Elimination of Bias” featuring guest panelists Roula Allouch (National Board Chair, Council on American-Islamic Relations) and David Rivela (Senior Trial Attorney, U.S. EEOC). Don’t miss this important discussion at the upcoming Labor & Employment Law Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Sign up today at www.fedbar.org/labor17.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with at least 15 employees, as well as employment agencies and unions, from discriminating in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It also bars retaliation against persons who complain of discrimination or participate in an EEOC investigation. With respect to religion, Title VII prohibits:
- Treating applicants or employees differently based on their religious beliefs or practices—or lack thereof—in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring, assignments, discipline, promotion, and benefits (disparate treatment);
- Subjecting employees to harassment because of their religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – or because of the religious practices or beliefs of people with whom they associate (e.g., relatives, friends, etc.); and
- Denying a requested reasonable accommodation of an applicant’s or employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – if an accommodation will not impose more than a de minimiscost or burden on business operations.
Join the Labor & Employment Section March 9-10 where leaders in employment and labor law from around the nation will present on timely topics for practitioners, including EEOC and NLRB updates, sex and sexual orientation discrimination, USERRA, immigration law, and religious discrimination in the workplace. Register now at www.fedbar.org/laborlaw17.
Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, patent, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.