Supreme Court on Job Denial

Mikayla M.

When Samantha Elauf applied for a job at the popular retail store Abercrombie & Fitch, there was no thought of her religion impacting her chances for a job.

Samantha wears a headscarf as part of her religion. As a Muslim, she is required to wear one every day. When she applied at A&F, she wore her black headscarf. She was denied a job because her headscarf was against the dress policy of A&F, which states no black shall be worn.

The issue has gone all the way to the Supreme Court, citing things such as discrimination and intolerance as fuel. The main issue is that hiring staff assumed Samantha would always wear her headscarf in accordance with her religion. Abercrombie lawyer Shay Dvoretzky said employers would get into trouble if they started making assumptions about people. “What we want to avoid is a rule that leads employers, in order to avoid liability, to start stereotyping about whether they think, guess or suspect that somebody is doing something for religious reasons,” Dvoretzky said.

Only Justice Antonin Scalia seemed open to the company’s argument. Several of Scalia’s colleagues said there’s an easy way to avoid stereotyping: Tell job applicants what the rules are and ask them, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “You have a problem with that?” Those conversations sometimes might be awkward, Justice Elena Kagan said, but far better the awkward moments than a situation that leads to stereotyping anyway.

The federal civil rights law known as Title VII requires employers to make accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs in most instances. Dvoretzky said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, representing Elauf, wants employers to treat people differently based on religion, “which is precisely the opposite of what Title VII wants.”

That provoked a sharp reply from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Title VII requires them to treat people who have religious practice differently. They don’t have to accommodate a baseball cap. They do have to accommodate a yarmulke,” Ginsburg said, referring to a Jewish skullcap.

Should the Supreme Court reward Samantha a rumored $20,000 for her troubles? Or does Abercrombie & Fitch have the foundation to fight the accusation of discrimination?