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Supreme Court rules against Abercrombie & Fitch


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Abercrombie & Fitch Monday in favor of a Muslim woman who filed a lawsuit after she was denied a job at a store operated by the retailer because she wore a head scarf for religious reasons.

The ruling sends the case back to a lower court for further consideration.

In an 8-1 vote, the court gave a victory to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued the retailer on behalf of Samantha Elauf. In 2008, Elauf, then 17, applied for a job in an Abercrombie Kids store at a shopping center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She wore a black head scarf, a hijab, but did not say why.

The retailer declined to hire her on the grounds that her scarf clashed with its “look policy,” a policy meant to reinforce the brand’s preppy image and which, among other things, prohibits head gear being worn on the sales floor. After the EEOC sued the company on Elauf’s behalf, Abercrombie said it had no reason to know that Elauf’s head scarf was required by her faith.

In a subsequent ruling, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals contended that Abercrombie was not liable because Elauf did not provide actual notice of the need for a religious accommodation during her job interview. The Supreme Court reversed that decision.

In its Supreme Court brief, Abercrombie argued that job applicants should not be allowed “to remain silent and to assume that the employer recognizes the religious motivations behind their fashion decisions.”

But the Supreme Court ruled that Elauf did not have to make a specific request for a religious accommodation to obtain relief under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination in hiring.

In an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court ruled that Elauf needed only to show that her need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision.

“Here the employer at least suspected that the practice was a religious one; its refusal to hire was motivated by the desire to avoid accommodating that practice, and that is enough," Scalia wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the sole dissenter.

In a statement, Abercrombie noted that the Supreme Court ruling did not find that the company discriminated against Elauf, only that she can pursue her claim in court. The retailer also said that it had made significant enhancements to its store associate policies, including the replacement of the 'look policy' with a new dress code that allows associates to be more individualistic.

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