Supreme Court Rules Against Abercrombie in Discrimination Case

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The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 today in favor of a young woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie & Fitch because she was wearing a headscarf.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed an employee discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Samantha Elauf, who was recommended by an interviewer for a position at an A&F store back in 2008 but was ultimately not hired because her headscarf violated their “look policy.”

A jury originally ruled in favor of Elauf, awarding her $20,000 in damages, but the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision, sending it back for further review in 2013. At the time, Judge Jerome A. Holmes wrote: “Ms. Elauf never informed Abercrombie prior to its hiring decision that she wore her head scarf, or ‘hijab,’ for religious reasons.”

In today’s ruling, the Supreme Court set things straight. “This is really easy,” the New York Times reports Justice Antonin Scalia as saying from the bench. In the majority opinion, he wrote:

Abercrombie’s primary argument is that an applicant cannot show disparate treatment without first showing an employer had ‘actual knowledge’ of the applicant’s need for accommodation. We disagree.


For example, suppose that an employer thinks (though he does not know for certain) that a job applicant may be an orthodox Jew who will observe the Sabbath, and thus be unable to work on Saturdays. If the applicant actually requires an accommodation of that religious practice, and the employer’s desire to avoid the prospective accommodation is a motivating factor in his decision, the employer violates Title VII.

In a statement published following today’s decision, ACLU national legal director Steven R. Shapiro said:

“The court’s decision sends a powerful reminder that religious discrimination has no place in the workplace. Employers should welcome and accommodate religious diversity, not shut their doors to it.”


Abercrombie & Fitch published a statement as well, one that’s fairly reflective of the failing company’s well-documented inability to evolve with the times; it begins: “While the Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit decision, it did not determine that A&F discriminated against Ms. Elauf.” (Read the full statement here.)

Image via Associated Press.

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It must be noted that Clarence Thomas was the 1 in the 8-1 vote in a case that Scalia said was “really easy.”