We reported last year that the U.S. Supreme Court was set to hear an appeal in a religious discrimination case commenced by Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman, in 2008. Elauf alleged that she was denied a salesperson position at an Abercrombie & Fitch children’s store in Oklahoma because she wore a headscarf during her interview, which ran afoul of Abercrombie’s “Look Policy.”
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision ruled that Abercrombie might have discriminated against Elauf on the basis of religion under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Court was asked to determine if Elauf was required to ask for a religious accommodation for her head covering in order to sue Abercrombie. Although Elauf wore the headscarf to her interview, she did not explicitly ask for a religious accommodation to continue wearing it. The Court ruled that Abercrombie’s knowledge of Elauf’s need for a religious accommodation was not relevant; rather, only if the headscarf was a “motivating factor” in the Company’s decision not to hire her was important. Justice Scalia explained, “Motive and knowledge are separate concepts…An employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate [the law] even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.” As such, the Court reversed the lower court’s ruling in favor of Abercrombie and sent the case back to the lower court for further review.
In a statement issued by Abercrombie, the Company said that it has replaced the “Look Policy” with a new dress code that allows associates to be “more individualistic” and changed its hiring practices to not consider attractiveness.