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Supreme Court Will Consider Abercrombie's Religious Discrimination Case

A model at the front entrance to the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store in New York City.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
A model at the front entrance to the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store in New York City.

Next term, the Supreme Court will hear a case that concerns the hiring habits of Abercrombie & Fitch.

At issue is whether the store discriminated against a woman because she wore a head scarf. Bloomberg explains:

"Samantha Elauf was 17 in 2008 when she applied for a sales job at an Abercrombie Kids store in a mall in Tulsa. She had been told by a friend who worked for the retailer that wearing a hijab wouldn't be a problem—as long as it wasn't black. Sales associates can't wear black at Abercrombie.

"During her interview, Elauf wore a head scarf and the assistant manager scored her style a 6, which was good enough to be hired. When the assistant manager sought approval for Elauf's hijab, though, a supervisor said the head scarf didn't meet Abercrombie's look policy. Hats are not allowed at Abercrombie. The supervisor later said he didn't know that Elauf wore the scarf for religious reasons. Elauf wasn't hired."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on Elauf's behalf in 2009. She won, but an appeals court reversed that judgement.

The rub? The court said Elauf should have asked for a religious exemption to wear a hijab when she was interviewed by the supervisor.

That's the central question in front of the Supreme Court. The Guardian explains:

"The EEOC argues that if "actual knowledge" of an employee's religious beliefs is required by employers, companies could discriminate against employees because of perceived religious practices, so long as they do not have explicit statements from an employee.

"'By holding that an employer may discriminate against a job applicant or employee based on practices that the employer correctly believes to be religious, so long as the employer does not have 'actual knowledge' of the need for religious accommodation ... opened a safe harbour for religious discrimination,' argued attorneys for the EEOC, referring to an appeals decisions in favour of Abercrombie."

This is not the first time, Abercrombie has been in trouble over alleged discrimination. In 2013, a judge ruled that it had discriminated against an employee after it fired a woman because her hijab did not conform to the allowed fashion detailed in its "look book."

Shortly thereafter, the company agreed to pay $71,000 and change its policy. Now, the company is required to tell its employees that it can make religious exemptions to its "look book."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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