(WASHINGTON, D.C., 6/1/15) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today welcomed what it called a "historic" ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a Muslim woman who sued Abercrombie & Fitch after she was denied a job because she wore an Islamic head scarf (hijab).
In an 8-1 vote, the court ruled in favor of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that sued the company on behalf of Samantha Elauf. This case was originally brought to the EEOC on behalf of Elauf by CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter in 2008 when she filed a complaint of discrimination with that office.
CAIR’s national office filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the case.
At issue was whether an employer can be liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for refusing to hire an applicant or discharging an employee based on a “religious observance and practice” only if the employer has actual knowledge that a religious accommodation was required and the employer's actual knowledge resulted from direct, explicit notice from the applicant or employee.
In its ruling, the court stated in part:
“[R]eligious practice is one of the protected characteristics that cannot be accorded disparate treatment and must be accommodated. . .Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices — that they be treated no worse than other practices. Rather, it gives them favored treatment. . .Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.”
“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 CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “We applaud Samantha’s courage in standing up for her rights by contacting CAIR, which led to the EEOC lawsuit and to our amicus brief filed with the court.”
"The Supreme Court rightly underscored that a job applicant's religious beliefs and practices must play no role in an employer's hiring decision," said CAIR's Senior Staff Attorney William Burgess. "A company engages in illegal employment discrimination when it decides not to hire someone out of a desire to avoid accommodating his or her religious needs, confirmed or not."
CAIR offers a booklet, called "An Employer's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," to help corporate managers gain a better understanding of Islam and 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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