Supreme Court Backs Muslim Woman Denied Job For Wearing Head Scarf
On Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Muslim woman who was discriminated against when she applied for a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch Co clothing store in Oklahoma on grounds that she wore a head scarf for religious purposes.
Samantha Elauf, who was 17 when she applied for the job, was denied employment under Abercrombie’s sales staff “look policy” when she turned up for the interview wearing a head scarf, or hijab, worn by many Muslim women.
According to Yahoo News, Elauf said in a statement issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Observance of my faith should not have prevented me from getting a job. I am glad that I stood up for my rights, and happy that the EEOC was there for me and took my complaint to the courts.”
Elauf had concerns before her interview that her black head scarf that she wears for religious purposes may not be accepted by her prospective employer. During her interview with the assistant manager Heather Cooke, she was informed about the company’s “look policy,” which prohibited her from wearing a lot of makeup, black clothing or nail polish; however, the subject of her head scarf didn’t come up.
In another statement issued through the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Elauf had said, “I was a teenager who loved fashion and was eager to work for Abercrombie & Fitch. Observance of my faith should not have prevented me from getting a job. I am glad that I stood up for my rights, and happy that the EEOC was there for me and took my complaint to the courts. I am grateful to the Supreme Court for today’s decision and hope that other people realize that this type of discrimination is wrong and the EEOC is there to help.”
The Supreme Court’s decision came as a victory for the EEOC, who had sued the company in behalf of Elauf.
According to CNN, Gregory Lipper of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who joined a brief in favor of Elauf, said, “The significance of today’s ruling is that an employer cannot put its head in the sand when it has reason to believe that an applicant will need a religious accommodation.
“It means that if an employer thinks a potential employee needs a religious accommodation, than the employer needs to make a reasonable effort to accommodate; it can’t reject the applicant and then plead ignorance.”
As reported by NBC News, Adam Soltani, the executive director of CAIR/Oklahoma, said in an interview that a “neutral policy” can lead to discrimination.
He said, “(Abercrombie) said her wearing the headscarf violated the look policy. They felt she did not fit into their look policy and that’s why they chose not to hire her.”
However, lawyers representing Abercrombie replied in defense that the company in the past has complied with its employees’ requests by granting accommodations to them.
Shay Dvoretzky, a lawyer for the company, said, “Here, Elauf never identified her headscarf as religious, nor did Abercrombie have actual knowledge of that fact from any other source. 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 regions.”
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