Retail chain Abercrombie & Fitch has lost a Supreme Court case after one of its stores discriminated against a young Muslim woman.
Back in 2008, 17-year-old Samantha Elauf applied for a job at the store, despite being nervous that she wouldn’t get hired due to her black headscarf, or hijab. But during her interview, assistant manager Heather Cooke never brought up the garment, which is worn for religious reasons; Elauf was only told that the store’s “look policy” meant she shouldn’t wear too much makeup, nail polish or black clothing.
Yet when Cooke consulted with a district manager about hiring Elauf, she was told not to because the headscarf violated the dress code, which bans any sort of hat or headgear.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took Elauf’s side, and the case made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
The EEOC has helped Americans receive justice after being discriminated against during hiring, firing, or the term of their employment. For example, they handle pregnancy discrimination complaints, which they report are settled in the worker’s favor just 25% of the time.
Justices voted 8-1 in Elauf’s favor, saying that the company failed to accommodate Elauf’s religious faith.
Lawyers for Abercrombie & Fitch fired back, that they wouldn’t hire Elauf not because she was Muslim, but because they claimed they didn’t have “actual knowledge” that she needed a religious accommodation.
“Here, Elauf never identified her headscarf as religious, nor did Abercrombie have actual knowledge of that fact from any other source,” wrote Shay Dvoretzky. He argued in court that Abercrombie simply didn’t want to stereotype applicants or assume a religious purpose for that person’s dress or actions.
Justice Samuel Alito called the argument absurd, asking the retailer’s defense if they would need a Sikh man or a Catholic nun to also explain that their garments were religious rather than a fashion statement. Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in the ruling.
According to Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote for the majority, “An applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need.”
This isn’t the first time that Abercrombie & Fitch has been accused of discriminatory employment practices.
In April, an anonymous former employee, who is black, wrote a blog post on XOJane detailing her time as a model for the chain. She stated that visits from then-CEO Mike Jeffries resulted in non-white models being sent home early from the store, meaning a significant cut in hours for her and other workers.
Jeffries, who resigned last year, was famous for saying that the reason Abercrombie & Fitch failed to stock women’s plus sizes was because his company wanted to exclusively market to “cool, good-looking people.”