The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a Muslim woman who filed a lawsuit after she was denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store in Oklahoma because she wore a headscarf for religious reasons.
On a 8-1 vote, the court handed a win to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that sued the company on behalf of Samantha Elauf. She was denied a sales job in 2008 at an Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa when she was 17.
The legal question before the court was whether Elauf was required to ask for a religious accommodation in order for the company to be sued under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which, among other things, bans employment discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs and practices.
Elauf wore a headscarf, or hijab, during her job interview but did not specifically say that, as a Muslim, she wanted the company to give her a religious accommodation.
The company denied Elauf the job on the grounds that wearing the scarf violated its “look policy” for members of the sales staff, a policy intended to promote the brand's image, which has been described as youthful and preppy.
Muslim groups said in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Elauf that employment discrimination against Muslims is widespread in the United States. Often, the act of a woman wearing a headscarf is what triggers the discrimination, according to the brief. The EEOC has reported that Muslims file more employment claims about discrimination and the failure to provide religious accommodations than any other religious group.
Groups representing Christians, Jews and Sikhs also filed court papers backing Elauf.