When 17-year-old Samantha Elauf applied for a job at Abercrombie and Fitch in 2008, she was not hired even though she received a high score during the interview process. The assistant manager who conducted the interview thought she was qualified, but the manager was concerned that Elauf’s hijab would be in violation of the company’s “Look Policy.” The policy did not permit caps to be worn. After communicating with her district manager about the issue, the assistant manager agreed to lower Elauf’s score because Elauf wore a hijab.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Elauf as a result of being denied a position at the retail store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A district court ruled in her favor, granting the Muslim teen damages in the amount of twenty thousand dollars. However, the decision was reversed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that an employer is free from liability for neglecting to “accommodate a religious practice” if a potential employee had not requested the accommodation.
However, the Supreme Court sided with Ms. Elauf in an 8-1 decision, with Justice Thomas the lone dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia spoke on behalf of the high Court when he said “an employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.”
Moreover, during oral arguments, Justice Samuel Alito stated that the managers at Abercrombie could have questioned her as to whether she would wear the head scarf while at work for religious reasons. But they did not ask her this question. Instead, they made the assumption that she wore the scarf as part of her religious practice, and refused to hire her for that reason.
Dress Codes Cannot Violate Civil Rights
While it is acceptable for an employer to have a dress code, it is unconstitutional for an employer to discriminate against someone because of religious practice. For instance, if an employer terminates, or refuses to hire, someone because of their religious practice, and does not even attempt to accommodate them, then that counts as discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Given Abercrombie’s reputation for exclusivity in its hiring and marketing practices, it is unsurprising that the store refused to hire someone because of her religious practice of wearing a hijab. Nevertheless, the managers should have realized that such a denial was a form of discrimination, and in violation of the law.
However, the company seems to be leaning towards becoming more inclusive, especially in light of a prior class-action discrimination lawsuit, which alleged that Abercrombie discriminated against minorities, including African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans, in its hiring practices and its marketing. In fact, just this past April, the company stated that it would be more “inclusive and diverse” in its hiring methods, and adopt a “more individualistic” dress code.