Clothing retailer may just end up disliking the head scarf.
By Raif Karerat
WASHINGTON, DC: The Supreme Court heard an hour-long argument on Wednesday that pitted clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch against a Muslim woman in a case that may have overarching consequences for religious freedom of expression in workplaces across the nation.
Abercrombie & Fitch is battling litigation brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — and backed by 16 other religious organizations with affiliations to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism — that claims the retailer should be held liable for rejecting Samantha Elauf’s job application in 2008 because she was wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf, otherwise known as a hijab.
The United States’ highest court of law must decide whether to invoke Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents employers from discriminating on the base of race, color, national origin, sex, or religion.
During the interview, the store manager never brought up Elauf’s headscarf, which technically violates the company’s strict “Look Policy” that dictates what its “sales models” can wear down to the sartorial minutia of the matter. Headgear is one of items explicitly banned by the company’s policy.
The store manager then asked her district supervisor about it – going as far as to say she “assumed” the headscarf was worn for religious reasons, according to court documents. The district supervisor, who denies that the issue of religion was ever raised, told the store manager who conducted the interview that the headscarf disqualified Elauf from the position.
While a federal court ruled in favor of Elauf, who was 17 when she interviewed with Abercrombie, the 10th U.S. circuit court of appeals overturned the decision, deciding that the impetus rested with the plaintiff to explicitly express that she might be in need of an accommodation.
This is not the first time Abercrombie has had to mitigate a headscarf-related lawsuit. In 2008, a woman named Halla Banafa alleged a manager at Abercrombie’s Milpitas, California location didn’t hire her because of her headscarf. Umme-Hani Khan, who worked at one of the company’s Hollister stores in San Francisco, was terminated in 2010 after a district manager visiting her store ordered her to remove her hijab and she refused.
The clothing company eventually settled both of those cases in 2013 and consequently changed its Look Policy to allow employees to wear headscarves, but it’s unclear how the settlements and policy change will affect Abercrombie’s current trial.