Among the cases the Supreme Court will take up in its next term is Samantha Elauf’s challenge to Abercrombie & Fitch’s hiring practices. In 2008, Elauf, then 17 years old and applying for a job at a Tulsa, Oklahoma, Abercrombie & Fitch store, was told that the headscarf she wore wasn’t in line with the company’s “look policy.” Elauf was turned down for the job.
While the company policy actually contained exceptions for religious head coverings, the store manager didn’t ask Elauf whether she wore her head scarf for religious reasons, and Elauf didn’t explicitly ask for an exemption either. Whose responsibility was it to make sure that Elauf wasn’t discriminated against based on her religion?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company and won a religious discrimination suit on Elauf’s behalf, but last October, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling.
Jessica Glenza at The Guardian explains the questions the Supreme Court will consider:
The case hinges on whether employees must explicitly inform prospective employers that they require a religious exemption, in this case for dress. Abercrombie argues that Elauf did not specifically request an exemption and thus one was not required, even though managers correctly assumed she wore the scarf for religious reasons.
“It is undisputed that Samantha Elauf did not inform Abercrombie that her religious beliefs required her to wear a headscarf when she was at work. It is axiomatic that an employer must have actual notice that an applicant’s mandatory religious practices conflict with an employment requirement,” attorneys for the company argued.
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.