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The Supreme Court Recently Made A Decision On Religious Discrimination In The Workplace

Author: Joel N. Kreizman|June 17, 2015

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court made it easier for employees to prove religious discrimination in the workplace.

The Supreme Court Recently Made A Decision On Religious Discrimination In The Workplace

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court made it easier for employees to prove religious discrimination in the workplace.

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court made it easier for employees to prove religious discrimination in the workplace.

The case specifically addressed when businesses must make accommodations from their dress codes to avoid religious discrimination in the workplace.

Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

The Facts of the Case

As we have previously discussed on this blog, Abercrombie has faced numerous religious discrimination lawsuits in recent years over its “Look Policy.” In 2005, litigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) resulted in a six-year consent decree and $40 million being paid to a plaintiff class of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and women who were excluded from hiring or promotions.

In the latest employment suit, the EEOC alleged that Abercrombie failed to hire applicant Samantha Elauf because she wore a headscarf to her interview, which violated the clothing store’s dress code. The suit specifically allege that Abercrombie’s actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to accommodate the sincere religious beliefs or practices of employees unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business.

In its defense, Abercrombie argued that it could not be held liable for discrimination because Elauf never mentioned that she wore it for religious reasons. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, holding that ordinarily an employer cannot be liable under Title VII for failing to accommodate a religious practice until the applicant (or employee) provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia characterized the case as a “really easy” one. The Court held that an employer can be held liable for failing to accommodate a religious practice under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 even through the employee has not made an express request. Specifically, an applicant need only show that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.

As Justice Scalia explains, “An employer who has actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation does not violate Title VII by refusing to hire an applicant if avoiding that accommodation is not his motive. Conversely, an employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.”

The Supreme Court Recently Made A Decision On Religious Discrimination In The Workplace

Author: Joel N. Kreizman

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court made it easier for employees to prove religious discrimination in the workplace.

The case specifically addressed when businesses must make accommodations from their dress codes to avoid religious discrimination in the workplace.

Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

The Facts of the Case

As we have previously discussed on this blog, Abercrombie has faced numerous religious discrimination lawsuits in recent years over its “Look Policy.” In 2005, litigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) resulted in a six-year consent decree and $40 million being paid to a plaintiff class of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and women who were excluded from hiring or promotions.

In the latest employment suit, the EEOC alleged that Abercrombie failed to hire applicant Samantha Elauf because she wore a headscarf to her interview, which violated the clothing store’s dress code. The suit specifically allege that Abercrombie’s actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to accommodate the sincere religious beliefs or practices of employees unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business.

In its defense, Abercrombie argued that it could not be held liable for discrimination because Elauf never mentioned that she wore it for religious reasons. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, holding that ordinarily an employer cannot be liable under Title VII for failing to accommodate a religious practice until the applicant (or employee) provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia characterized the case as a “really easy” one. The Court held that an employer can be held liable for failing to accommodate a religious practice under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 even through the employee has not made an express request. Specifically, an applicant need only show that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.

As Justice Scalia explains, “An employer who has actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation does not violate Title VII by refusing to hire an applicant if avoiding that accommodation is not his motive. Conversely, an employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.”

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