Last month, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the standard used to determine the right to a religious accommodation in the workplace. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the Court held that an “employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.” The Court’s 8-1 decision reinforced the fundamental principles underlying Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment, by ensuring that all individuals who outwardly manifest their faith are provided an equal opportunity to participate in the job market.
Under Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire an applicant because of the applicant’s religion. In addition, the law imposes an affirmative obligation on employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practice of an individual, unless the employer demonstrates that such an accommodation would cause “undue hardship” on its business. An “accommodation” is an exception to a general workplace policy or rule, which allows an employee to do something the rules ordinarily prohibit because it is part of his or her religious practice.
In 2008, clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch refused to hire Samantha Elauf, a Muslim who wears a headscarf in accordance with her religious beliefs, because her headscarf conflicted with the company’s employee “look policy.” After CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter assisted Ms. Elauf in filing an employment discrimination complaint with the EEOC, the EEOC brought suit alleging that the company’s refusal to hire Ms. Elauf constituted religious discrimination and violated the failure to accommodate provisions of Title VII.