August 24, 2015 - When Samantha Elauf went in for her job interview with Abercrombie & Fitch, she wore the headscarf traditional for a practicing Muslim. During the interview, her headscarf was not mentioned or discussed, but the store did take note of its presence and decided not to offer Elauf a job at the store after considering that she had most likely worn the headscarf for religious reasons and that it would be in violation of the store’s “Look Policy.”
The “Look Policy” at Abercrombie & Fitch violates the wearing of “caps” stating that this look is too informal for the image the company desires to project. In response, the EEOC sued Abercrombie & Fitch on Elauf’s behalf.
The EEOC received a summary judgment from the district court based on its claim that the store was in violation of Title VII when they refused to hire Elauf.
This decision was reversed in appellate court on the ground that employers cannot be held liable under Title VII for failing to accommodate a religious practice unless the applicant/employee first provides the employer with knowledge of their need for a religious accommodation or exception to policy/procedure, etc.
The United States Supreme Court then reversed the decision of the court of appeals. The Supreme Court held that for an applicant to prevail in this type of disparate treatment claim they need only show that their need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision. They did not need to show that the employer had actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation.
According to this line of reasoning, the hiring officers’ assumption and discussion of Elauf’s perceived need for an accommodation could be seen as a motivating factor even though the issue was not pointed out or discussed with her in person during the job interview.
If you have questions or need additional information about religious discrimination in the workplace or during the job hiring process, contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.