How the Supreme Court Ruled Against Abercrombie and in Favor of a Hijabi

Samantha Elauf, a 23-year-old, headscarf-wearing Muslim woman, has triggered quite the controversial debate surrounding religious freedom and the accountability of employers under civil rights laws.

Click here to check out our earlier article for everything you need to know about the details of this case.

What not to wear

  • Seventeen-year-old Elauf was refused a sales job at Abercrombie & Fitch back in 2008 and denied equal employment opportunities commission, which led her to sue the retailer.
  • Elauf was interviewed in 2008 for a sales position at a branch of Abercrombie and Fitch in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She left with the impression from the interview process that she had scored highly in the ‘appearance and sense of style category’ with 23-year-old assistant manager Heather Cooke. Tides of opinion were swiftly influenced however, when a more senior manager was consulted, who claimed that the models don’t ‘wear hats.’ Elauf was wearing a black hijab at the time.

Employers beware

  • October 2014: The Supreme Court ruled that Abercrombie and Fitch was responsible for ‘religious bias’ against Elauf for wearing the hijab.
  • The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged that Elauf was not hired because she wore a headscarf that required religious exemption from the companies’ “look policy.” Abercrombie & Fitch alleged that the headscarf “violates company policy.” The company’s look policy includes bans on things such as wearing excessive makeup and black nail polish. However, wearing a headscarf or any other religious garment is not explicitly mentioned.
  • The Supreme courts claim Samantha should not have been refused Abercrombie & Fitch Job due to wearing the headscarf. Groups gathered outside of the Supreme Court building holding signs calling for equal justice under the law.

What does this mean?

  • The Supreme Court today ruled that Abercrombie & Fitch is responsible for violating workplace discrimination laws in this case.
  • This is a smart move on the part of the Supreme Courts. The EEOC, which sued on Samantha’s behalf, led to a federal judge to rule against the company. Back in 2014, the Tenth US circuit court of appeals reversed this decision. But EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez issued a statement saying, “Monday’s case is the latest effort to ensure all persons protected by Title VII are not placed in the difficult position of choosing between adherence to one’s faith and a job.” The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that it believed Samantha’s religious needs had not been accommodated.

Written by Hanan Abdel-Khalek