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Supreme Court rules on religious dress in the workplace issue

When 18-year-old Samantha Elauf applied to work at an Abercrombie Kids store, she did well during her interview. In fact, she did so well during her interview that she “scored” high enough on the company’s interview scale that she qualified for a sales position. However, Samantha was not granted a sales position. Because she wore a religious headscarf, she was denied a job at Abercrombie.

Ms. Elauf eventually took the company to court over the issue. She insisted that because Abercrombie’s discriminatory dress code at the time of her interview did not allow for applicants like herself to seek employment there specifically because of religious dress issues, the company was acting illegally.

Like other applicants and workers facing discriminatory treatment, Ms. Elauf first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When the EEOC was unable to resolve the issue with Abercrombie informally, the commission sued the company on the applicant’s behalf. Ultimately, Ms. Elauf was awarded $20,000 in damages, although this ruling was overturned by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because she had not specifically requested a religious dress accommodation from the company.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court recently resolved the issue by overturning the appellate ruling. The majority opinion insists that, “An employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.” This ruling is a great victory for applicants and workers alike. It will hopefully inspire employers to take proactive measures to accommodate workers in an effort to prevent unintentional discriminatory treatment.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Supreme Court Sides With Muslim Abercrombie Job Applicant over Head Scarf,” Jess Bravin, June 1, 2015

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