In Landmark Civil Rights Win, SCOTUS Rules Against Abercrombie

In what is being heralded as a far-reaching win for civil rights, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled (pdf) that an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store in Oklahoma unlawfully discriminated against a Muslim job applicant by rejecting her for a sales position because she wore a hijab.

In an 8-1 decision, the court sided with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which levied the suit on behalf of Samantha Elauf.

Elauf was denied a sales associate position at a Tulsa Abercrombie & Fitch store in 2008—when she was 17-years-old—after she showed up for the interview in a hijab. The company’s official reason was that Elauf’s head scarf violated its “look policy” at the time. However, Elauf charged that the rejection amounted to religious discrimination.

After Elauf complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency levied a suit against the retail giant under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on religious grounds.

Backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the company charged that it was the responsibility of Elauf to specifically ask for religious accommodation.

Abercrombie & Fitch’s argument was ultimately rejected by the top court, with Justice Clarence Thomas issuing the only dissent. The court’s majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, states: “The rule for disparate-treatment claims based on a failure to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.”

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