The U.S. Supreme Court indicated Wednesday that it will side with a Muslim woman denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch Co. clothing store in Oklahoma because she wore a hijab, or headscarf, for religious reasons.
Nine justices heard a one-hour argument as part of an appeal brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that sued the company on behalf of Samantha Elauf.
Elauf was 17 when she was interviewed for a “model” position, as the company calls its sales staff. She impressed the assistant store manager, but her application was rejected over her headscarf that apparently contradicted the company’s “Look Policy,” centered on an East Coast preppy style.
The dress code prohibited caps or hats, and Abercrombie & Fitch had argued that was the reason Elauf was not hired — not religious discrimination. Abercrombie has since changed its policy on headscarves. But it maintains a ban on black clothing.
The justices on Wednesday aggressively questioned Abercrombie’s lawyer on the premise that an employer must take steps to accommodate the religious beliefs of a job applicant or worker.
“What the Supreme Court is now confronting is how courts should sort out the duty to show that respect: must the job applicant specifically make her private religious needs known up front, or must the company make its policies clear, so that an applicant knows what is required and can ask for an accommodation,” said a post on the SCOTUS blog.
Elauf did not explain that she was wearing the hijab for religious reasons during the interview for a sales job at the store in 2008 in the Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma.