Samantha Elauf Beats Abercrombie & Fitch In Headscarf Case At Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has ruled against Abercrombie & Fitch, determining that the store had discriminated against Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman, because of her religion.
Samantha Elauf’s Abercrombie & Fitch Headscarf Suit
Elauf sued the company after applying for a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in 2008. Elauf reportedly had a successful interview with the store’s assistant manager, Heather Cooke, and says her headscarf, which she wears in accordance with her Muslim faith, never came up. According to the court, Cooke was ready to recommend Elauf be hired, but asked her manager about whether or not a headscarf violated the company’s Look Policy first. When Cooke informed the district manager about Elauf’s headscarf, saying she assumed Elauf was Muslim, the manager allegedly told her not to hire Elauf because the head scarf went against A&F’s infamous Look Policy.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued A&F on behalf of Elauf, and the legal heart of the case soon became whether or not Elauf was required to have informed the company of her need for a religious accommodation to the Look Policy in order to sue the company. Most Supreme Court Justices agreed that Elauf did not need to have formally appealed to the company for a religious exemption from the Look Policy for the company to have discriminated against her because of her head scarf.
“An applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the decision for the majority.
EEOC General Counsel David Lopez released a statement, celebrating the Court’s decision: “Monday’s case is the latest effort to ensure all persons protected by Title VII are not placed in the difficult position of choosing between adherence to one’s faith and a job.”
Elauf took to Instagram following the Supreme Court decision, telling followers, “And remember to always stand up for your rights!”
Abercrombie & Fitch maintains that it did nothing wrong, and attorney for the company Shay Dvoretzky argued that ruling in favor of Elauf would encourage employers such as A&F to stereotype based on appearances. “What we want to avoid is a rule that leads employers, in order to avoid liability, to start stereotyping about whether they think, guess or suspect that somebody is doing something for religious [reasons],” Dvoretzky said.
Justice Clarence Thomas was the voice of dissent, voting against Elauf in the case, and in his decision, Thomas wrote that A&F may have been guilty of “disparate impact,” meaning that the company’s Look Policy was unintentionally harsh on Elauf’s Muslim faith, but was not guilty of “intentional discrimination.”
“Abercrombie refused to create an exception to its neutral Look Policy for Samantha Elauf’s religious practice of wearing a headscarf… In doing so, it did not treat religious practices less favorably than similar secular practices, but instead remained neutral with regard to religious practices,” Thomas wrote.
The Supreme Court ruled that the case be sent back to lower courts with their decision in mind, as an A&F spokesperson pointed out in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “While the Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit decision, it did not determine that A&F discriminated against Ms. Elauf. We will determine our next steps in the litigation, which the Supreme Court remanded for further consideration,” said a spokesperson for A&F.
Meanwhile, Abercrombie & Fitch recently instituted new rules for employees that loosened some restrictions of the Look Policy, including halting the practice of hiring sales associates based on “physical attractiveness” and getting rid of shirtless models.