U.S. Supreme Court affirms religious rights in Abercrombie & Fitch case

Reasonable accommodation example. Will see how the lower court rules in terms of the specifics but at least the general principle has been confirmed:

The U.S. Supreme Court strengthened civil rights protections Monday for employees and job applicants who need special treatment in the workplace because of their religious beliefs.

The justices sided with a Muslim woman who did not get hired after she showed up to a job interview with clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch wearing a black headscarf.

The headscarf, or hijab, violated the company’s strict dress code, since changed, for employees who work in its retail stores.

Employers generally have to accommodate job applicants and employees with religious needs if the employer at least has an idea that such accommodation is necessary, Justice Antonin Scalia said in his opinion for the court.

Job applicant Samantha Elauf did not tell her interviewer she was Muslim. But Scalia said that Abercrombie “at least suspected” that Elauf wore a headscarf for religious reasons. “That is enough,” Scalia said in an opinion for seven justices.

U.S. federal civil rights law gives religious practices “favoured treatment” that forbids employers from firing or not hiring people based on their observance of religion, Scalia said. The federal civil rights law known as Title VII requires employers to make accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs in most instances. Elauf’s case turned on how employers are supposed to know when someone has a religious need to be accommodated.

The decision does not, by itself, resolve her case. Instead, it will return to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which earlier ruled against her.

“While the Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit decision, it did not determine that [Abercrombie & Fitch] discriminated against Ms. Elauf. We will determine our next steps in the litigation,” company spokeswoman Carlene Benz said in an email.

Some business groups said Monday’s ruling will force employers to make assumptions about applicants’ religious beliefs.

“Shifting this burden to employers sets an unclear and confusing standard making business owners extremely vulnerable to inevitable discrimination lawsuits,” said Karen Harned, a top lawyer at the National Federation of Independent Business. “Whether employers ask an applicant about religious needs or not, there is a good chance they will be sued.”

Jenny Yang, chairwoman of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, praised the court for “affirming that employers may not make an applicant’s religious practice a factor in employment decisions.” The commission had sued on Elauf’s behalf.

As to the protestations of the National Federation of Independent Business, it does not appear to me too difficult to make the assumption that someone wearing a cross, a kippa, a turban or a hijab is likely doing so for religious reasons.

U.S. Supreme Court affirms religious rights in Abercrombie & Fitch case – World – CBC News.

In a Case of Religious Dress, US Justices Explore the Obligations of Employers – NYTimes.com

US Supreme Court hearings on religious accommodation (the Abercrombie & Fitch case):

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Wednesday warned that “this is going to sound like a joke,” and then posed an unusual question about four hypothetical job applicants. If a Sikh man wears a turban, a Hasidic man wears a hat, a Muslim woman wears a hijab and a Catholic nun wears a habit, must employers recognize that their garb connotes faith — or should they assume, Justice Alito asked, that it is “a fashion statement”?

The question arose in a vigorous Supreme Court argument that explored religious stereotypes, employment discrimination and the symbolism of the Muslim head scarf known as the hijab, all arising from a 2008 encounter at Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Okla.

Samantha Elauf, then 17, sought a job in a children’s clothing store owned by Abercrombie & Fitch. She wore a black head scarf but did not say why.

The company declined to hire her, saying her scarf clashed with the company’s dress code, which called for a “classic East Coast collegiate style.” The desired look, Justice Alito said, was that of “the mythical preppy.”

…In response to Justice Alito’s question about the four hypothetical applicants, Shay Dvoretzky, a lawyer for the company, conceded that some kinds of religious dress presented harder questions, but he said the court should require applicants to raise the issue of religious accommodations.

Several justices suggested that an employer should simply describe its dress code and ask if it posed a problem. That would shift the burden to the applicant, they said. If the applicant then raised a religious objection, the employer would be required to offer an accommodation so long as it did not place an undue burden on the business.

That approach, Mr. Dvoretzky said, would itself require stereotyping.

But Justice Elena Kagan said that the approach was the lesser of two evils. On the one hand, it could require an “awkward conversation,” she said. “But the alternative to that rule is a rule where Abercrombie just gets to say, ‘We’re going to stereotype people and prevent them from getting jobs.’ ”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg added that Ms. Elauf had not even known that her hijab was a problem.

“How could she ask for something when she didn’t know the employer had such a rule?” Justice Ginsburg said.

In a Case of Religious Dress, Justices Explore the Obligations of Employers – NYTimes.com.

Veiled Women Need Not Apply « The Dish

Interesting US reasonable accommodation case with respect to the hijab and Abercrombie & Fitch (the company, while allowing a yarmulke, argued against the hijab):

The company has changed its dress code since then, but it’s fighting this case on the ground that it didn’t deny her a religious accommodation because she didn’t ask for a religious accommodation. That is, it had a dress code that applied to everyone, and she violated it, so she was treated like anyone else who fails to comply with the dress code, not subjected to discrimination based on religion.

If she’d asked for an accommodation based on religion, the company would have had to make some conscious decision about whether an exception to the usual rule could be made. Without having been given that chance, the company argues, there’s no discrimination, the company says. The EEOC, which brought the case on behalf of Elauf, doesn’t want the burden to bring up religion to rest entirely on the employee.

Veiled Women Need Not Apply « The Dish.