The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will decide whether a job applicant must specifically request an accommodation before an employer can be held liable for having a dress code that prohibits religious attire or grooming practices.
The case involves a young Muslim woman who was denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch Co. clothing store because she wears a hijab—the head scarf many Muslim women believe their faith requires.
Samantha Elauf was 17 years old in 2008 when she applied for a sales job at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in Tulsa, Okla. She wore a hijab to a job interview but did not specifically say that she wanted a religious accommodation allowing her to wear a scarf on the job. Abercrombie & Fitch declined to hire Elauf because wearing a hijab violated a “look policy” the chain requires sales staff to follow.
The EEOC sued on Elauf’s behalf. In July 2011, a federal district judge ruled that Abercrombie & Fitch had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by failing to accommodate Elauf when it refused to make an exception to its dress code.
In October 2013, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned that ruling, setting up the EEOC’s Supreme Court challenge. The key question the Supreme Court will consider is not whether Abercrombie & Fitch discriminated against Elauf, but whether job applicants and employees must explicitly tell an employer that they seek accommodation of garb or grooming practices that are religious in nature.
There is no word yet on when the Supreme Court will hear EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., although a decision is expected by June.
In response to several recent lawsuits accusing employers of discrimination for refusing to accommodate certain kinds of religious dress or grooming, the EEOC in March issued new informal guidance outlining its views on religious accommodation.
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