Abercrombie & Fitch has once again lost a diversity and inclusion battle this time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the company was wrong to turn down a Muslim job applicant because she wore a headscarf. The company had said the scarf didn’t fit its dress code, which required a “classic East Coast collegiate style.”
The Supreme Court’s decision means that failing to accommodate religious practices and observations is discrimination, unless the accommodation provides a major hardship for employers.
This is the second time this term the court has handled a religious accommodation involving a Muslim planitiff. The other case, in January, was Holt vs. Hobbs, in which the court unanimously found that Arkansas federal officials discriminated when they refused to allow a Muslin prisoner to grow a beard. Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, a controversial religious-freedom case decided at the end of the last term, ruled that companies could refuse to cover contraception on insurance plans because of owners’ beliefs.
Tbe bigger legal question is whether corporations can actually have religious beliefs but that isn’t a major issue in the Abercrombie case. Legal officials say this case is pure discrimination Samantha was qualified to work at the company but the managers believed her headscarf violated their “preferred appearance” policies. The appeals court had said she should have told Abercrombie she needed a religious accommodation to work there but the Supreme Court disagreed. The burden, they said, is on the company, not the job applicant.
In the Abercrombie case, Justice Antonin Scalia said the company’s decision not to hire the applicant, Samantha Elauf, was motivated by not wanting to accommodate her religious practice. Justice Scalia was supported by all other justices except Justice Clarence Thomas in finding this a case of federal religious discrimination.
In his written opinion, Justice Scalia stated: “An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.”
The case dates back to 2008, when Samantha first applied for the position. She told The New York Times her experience made her feel “disrespected because of my religious beliefs,” she said. “I was born in the United States, and I thought I was the same as everyone else.”
An Abercrombie spokesperson stated that the company’s dress code has changed since then, allowing workers to be “more individualistic.”
This is not the first time Abercrombie has been in the news for discriminatory actions.
Two years ago, the company came under fire for its decision not to sell women’s clothes in any size larger than a 10. CEO Mike Jeffries lost his job after he was sued for age discrimination when a former pilot sued and details came out that he liked younger flight attendants and required them to wear certain types of underwear.