June 15, 2015

Supreme Court Rules for EEOC in Abercrombie & Fitch Dress Code Case

Posted in Application Process, Discrimination, Dress Code, Grooming, Reasonable Accommodation, Relgious Discrimination, Religion, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:36 am by Tom Jacobson

Employers must now use more caution when their dress codes clash with their employees’ religious beliefs. That is the result of the United States Supreme Court’s June 1, 2015 ruling in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.

The case arose after Samantha Elauf applied for a job with Abercrombie. Elauf is a practicing Muslim who, consistent with her understanding of her religion’s requirements, wears a headscarf known as a hijab. Abercrombie had a “look policy” that prohibited employees from wearing “caps” as being too informal for work attire. The policy did not define “caps.”

After an interview, the assistant store manager rated Elauf as qualified to be hired, but she was concerned that the headscarf would violate the company’s “look” policy. Elauf, however, never requested an exception to that policy so that she could wear the hijab. The assistant manager asked her district manager for guidance, and she told the district manager that she believed Elauf wore the headscarf because or her faith. The district manager said the headscarf would violate the look policy, and he directed the assistant store manager to not hire Elauf.

The EEOC then sued Abercrombie on behalf of Elauf on the basis that the company’s refusal to hire Elauf violated the religious discrimination prohibitions of Title VII. The trial court ruled in favor of the EEOC (See Abercrombie & Fitch Dressed Down over Hijab in Religious Discrimination Case). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed on the basis that because Elauf never provided Abercrombie with actual notice of her need for accommodation of her religious belief, Abercrombie could not be liable under Title VII.

On further appeal, the Supreme Court agreed with the EEOC and trial court. Specifically, the high court ruled that to prove a claim of religious discrimination in the workplace, an applicant need only show only that his/her need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer knew of the need. An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.

Thus, even if an employee or applicant has not requested a religious accommodation (for example, a dress code or grooming policy exception, schedule modification, etc.), an employer must not use that person’s religious faith as a factor in making decisions about the employee or applicant. In addition, employers should keep their dress and grooming codes somewhat flexible to allow for the accommodation of affected religious beliefs.

For more information, see the EEOC’s publications, Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace and Fact Sheet on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities, or contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

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August 8, 2011

Abercrombie & Fitch dressed down over hijab in religious discrimination case

Posted in Discrimination, Religion tagged , , , , , at 10:27 am by Tom Jacobson

Inflexible dress codes can lead to religious discrimination.  That’s the hard lesson recently learned by clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch.

The lesson was taught by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frizzell, the federal judge presiding over a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after Abercrombie & Fitch refused to hire a teenage girl who is Muslim and who wore a hijab (the traditional religious head scarf).

The company argued that accommodating the girl’s beliefs by making an exception to its “Look Policy” would have imposed an undue hardship.  Judge Frizzell disagreed.  He concluded that the company had not demonstrated that it would sustain anything more than a minimal undue hardship.  As a result of Judge Frizzell’s ruling, the case will now proceed to a jury trial for a determination of any damages that Abercrombie & Fitch may have to pay.

The case is a reminder that is sometimes dress codes and religion intersect. Therefore, to avoid claims of religious discrimination, dress codes must be carefully drafted and flexibly applied.

For more information on this lawsuit, see Tulsa federal judge rules against Abercrombie & Fitch in lawsuit over hijab, or contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson, PA

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