(WASHINGTON, D.C., 12/10/14) -- The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering whether clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch's refusal to hire a Muslim woman wearing a religious headscarf (hijab) was discriminatory.
In 2015, the Supreme Court will determine whether a job applicant or employee is required to explicitly inform an employer that his or her dress or grooming practice is religiously motivated and to request that the employer provide an accommodation. The ruling will have a profound impact on the ability of many American Muslims to obtain and secure employment.
CAIR's brief to the court rejects a rigid notice rule that would permit employers to discriminate on the basis of religion because job applicants or employees are unaware of their rights or the nature of the workplace.
The case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., arises out of a complaint initially filed by CAIR's Oklahoma chapter on behalf of Samantha Elauf, a Muslim job applicant who was denied employment because she wears hijab.
A lower court said the company did not discriminate against the Muslim woman because she did not explicitly request a religious accommodation.
"The Tenth Circuit's explicit notice rule would, if adopted by the Supreme Court in this case, permit an employer to discriminate against a job applicant on the basis of her religion without legal consequence if the applicant does not know that she must expressly state her need for a religious accommodation, even when she is unaware of employer policies that would require it," said William Burgess, CAIR's senior staff attorney. "This creates a loophole in the law that undermines the core legislative purpose of Title VII, which was enacted to prohibit employment discrimination."
In its brief in support of the plaintiff, CAIR's attorneys wrote in part:
"CAIR believes this brief can offer the Court unique insight into the lives of American Muslims and the challenges they face in achieving equality in American public life, including in the workplace.
"In this case, the Court has been asked to resolve legal issues that profoundly affect the ability of individuals who outwardly manifest their religion to obtain and secure employment. Although many Muslims display their Islamic faith through various dress and grooming practices, this is not an issue limited to one particular religion; many followers of several other faiths, such as Judaism and Sikhism, follow their respective religiously-motivated dress and grooming practices.
"Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ensures equality of employment opportunities by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion. Because an applicant's religious views, and the need for the accommodation thereof, should not be any part of the basis for an employment decision, CAIR supports the position of the Petitioner and requests that the Court reverse the Tenth Circuit's decision requiring that a job applicant or employee provide direct, explicit notice of their religious observance or practice to trigger fundamental protections under Title VII.
" ... The Tenth Circuit's ruling requiring explicit, upfront notice of an employee's religious beliefs allows employers to 'weed out' religious job candidates at a vulnerable stage: before they are hired. ...
"Adoption of the explicit notice rule would likely have a disastrous effect on the Muslim community's overall employment rate. Muslims and EEOC offices have reported a "shocking" spike in anti-Muslim employment discrimination since September 2001. Despite the fact that Muslims make up only 0.8% of the country's population, around 20% of the religious discrimination complaints received by the EEOC were from Muslims."
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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