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Supreme Court rules in favor of woman denied Abercrombie & Fitch job over hijab

By Andrew V. Pestano
Supreme Court rules in favor of woman denied Abercrombie & Fitch job over hijab
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Abercrombie & Fitch violated the civil rights of Samantha Elauf, who was denied employment because she wore a hijab. Photo courtesy of Samantha Elauf/Instagram

WASHINGTON, June 1 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Abercrombie & Fitch violated the civil rights of a job applicant who was denied employment because she wore a hijab.

Samantha Elauf was denied a sales associate position because her hijab, a religious headscarf, violated the company's "look policy" in 2008. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which then filed suit against Abercrombie & Fitch.

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The clothing retailer argued that its policy was not discriminatory because it banned all types of headgear, including caps and hijabs, and that it was up to Elauf to request an accommodation based on religion.

The Supreme Court's 8-1 ruling allows Elauf to raise discrimination claims without having to prove Abercrombie & Fitch rejected hiring her because she wore a headscarf for religious reasons. Although Elauf wore a hijab, she was never informed about the "look policy," and her religious beliefs were never discussed, only assumed by company representatives.

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Under federal civil rights law, employers are required to "reasonably accommodate" the religious practices of workers and applicants, as long as it only imposes a minimal burden on the business.

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The court's decision heightens the duty of an employer to accommodate the religious practices of workers.

"The rule for disparate-treatment claims based on a failure to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant's religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions," read the court's opinion, delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia.

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The dissenting vote came from Justice Clarence Thomas.

Abercrombie & Fitch has since changed its "look policy" to allow headgear, including hijabs. The company has previously paid settlements in discrimination suits, including a $50 million payment in 2005 to Hispanic, African-American and Asian job applicants in a lawsuit alleging a lack of diversity.

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