What Does the Supreme Court Ruling in EEOC VS. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. Mean For Employers?

Employers Cannot Refuse to Hire Applicants Based on Religious Belief or Practice, Even If Not Specifically Asked for an Accommodation

Lady Blindfolded Holding Scales Justice Front Retro Mknzsaa

In an 8-1 decision the US Supreme Court has ruled that employers do not need to be explicitly made aware of an individuals need for a religious accommodation if they have even “an unsubstantiated suspicion” that an individual may require a religious accommodation.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

“The case arose when Samantha Elauf, then a teenager who wore a headscarf or hijab as part of her Muslim faith, applied for a job at Abercrombie & Fitch in her hometown of Tulsa, Okla. She was denied hire for failing to conform to the company's "Look Policy," which Abercrombie claimed banned head coverings. She then filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging religious discrimination, and the EEOC filed suit against Abercrombie & Fitch alleging that Abercrombie refused to hire Samantha Elauf due to her religion, and that it failed to accommodate her religious beliefs by making an exception to its "Look Policy" prohibiting head coverings….

Abercrombie appealed and a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled for Abercrombie. The court of appeals held that Abercrombie was not on sufficient notice of Elauf's religious practice because, despite correctly "assuming" that Elauf wore a headscarf because of her religion, Abercrombie did not receive explicit, verbal notice of a conflict between the "Look Policy" and her religious practice from Elauf - despite the evidence that Abercrombie never disclosed the "no head coverings" rule in the "Look Policy" to Elauf.

Elauf and the EEOC appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said:

"An employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed... to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant's religious practice confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions."

The case serves as a reminder for employers that the hiring process remains one of the most challenging areas for many organizations. Employers and hiring managers risk exposure to charges of discrimination when they don’t have the proper training and understanding of interviewing best practices. In this case there were three different levels of management within Abercrombie that weren’t sure of how they could have easily complied with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by making a religious accommodation to an otherwise qualified candidate.

HR One can help you sort through situations where you aren’t sure about what to do in order to comply with an employment regulation. We can also work with your hiring managers to make sure that they have the knowledge and skills to conduct interviews with applicants that incorporate compliance best practices.

Contact us today if you have questions or use the form below if you’d like to arrange for a training session.