U.S. Supreme Court: Abercrombie Engaged in Religious Discrimination

Jun 2 2015 - Discrimination, Workplace Policies - Gail Cecchettini Whaley

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the closely followed religious discrimination case, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. The Court found that Abercrombie engaged in religious discrimination when it refused to accommodate a Muslim applicant because she wore a hijab, an Islamic religious headscarf.

The high court ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “[a]n employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions,” regardless of whether the employer had actual knowledge of the applicant’s need for an accommodation.

As HRWatchdog previously reported, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch Stores Inc., alleging that Abercrombie violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the company refused to hire a 17-year-old Muslim woman because she wore a religious headscarf.

Abercrombie claimed that the headscarf violated the company’s dress code policy.

The EEOC won at the federal district court, but lost on appeal when the 10th Circuit court ruled that Abercrombie could not be liable for religious discrimination because the applicant never informed the store prior to its hiring decision that she wore the headscarf for religious reasons.

The EEOC then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to issue a final decision on whether an employer must have actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation in order for there to be a violation under Title VII.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that actual knowledge is not required is the rule of law that all employers must follow.

Erika Frank, CalChamber General Counsel

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