Supreme Court Ruling is Victory for Employees Who Want to Practice Their Religion While at Work

Samantha Elauf of Tulsa, Okla., appears outside the Supreme Court following oral arguments in her case in February. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)
Samantha Elauf of Tulsa, Okla., appears outside the Supreme Court following oral arguments in her case in February. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that companies cannot discriminate against job applicants or employees for religious reasons, even if an accommodation is not requested.

The decision was a victory for workers who want to exercise their religion on the job, from their wardrobe to transportation to time off. The court gave Samantha Elauf, a Muslim girl denied a job in 2008, another chance to make her case.

It was a setback for preppy clothier Abercrombie & Fitch, which refused to hire Elauf at the time because she was wearing a black hijab, or head scarf. The company has since changed its policies.

And it could have major implications in the future for other job applicants and employees who seek time off for religious observances, as well as those who adhere to strict dress codes.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the 8-1 decision for a near-unanimous court, save for Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissent. Scalia reasoned that even if the clothier did not know Samantha Elauf’s religion, its suspicion still motivated the decision to deny her a job.

That history put Abercrombie & Fitch’s former “look policy” for sales associates on thin ice. During oral arguments in February, both liberal and conservative justices refused to believe the company’s insistence that Elauf, 17 at the time, was turned down simply because of the head scarf, not her faith.

In his dissent, however, Thomas defended the company, claiming that its “neutral look policy” did not constitute intentional discrimination.

The court’s decision — hailed by virtually all religious groups, from Baptists to Jews to Sikhs — could have implications for religious minorities’ job opportunities as well as companies’ hiring practices.

Muslim women who cover their heads encounter some of the biggest problems. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — which sued Abercrombie on Elauf’s behalf — saw a 250% increase in religion-based discrimination charges involving Muslims. In 2012, more than 20% of its 3,800 religious discrimination claims were filed by Muslims.

“We welcome this historic ruling in defense of religious freedom at a time when the American Muslim community is facing increased levels of Islamophobia,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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SOURCE: Richard Wolf

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