Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.
On June 1, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that an employer’s refusal to hire a prospective employee cannot be motivated by that person’s religious practice. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against Abercrombie & Fitch on behalf of Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, alleging a violation of Title VII of the Equal Protection Act of 1964. The Act, inter alia, prohibits an employer from refusing to hire an applicant because of the applicant’s religious practice when that practice could be accommodated without undue hardship on the employer. Abercrombie maintains a “Look Policy” for each of its stores that governs how its employees dress. One provision of the Look Policy forbids wearing “caps,” a term the company believed to include Elauf’s headscarf, which she wore in observance of Muslim practice. Because Elauf’s headscarf was worn for religious purposes and because it was the determining factor for her not being hired, the Court concluded that Abercrombie had violated Elauf’s civil rights. Significantly, the Court clarified that the statutory language of Title VII does not require an employer to know that a religious practice is being observed; it simply prohibits a applicant’s religious observance from being a motivating factor in the decision not to hire.