Companies cannot restrict a person’s free exercise of religion for no defensible reason. Abercrombie and Fitch, the iconic retailer known for its shirtless male models, has had to learn this lesson the hard way. Samantha Elauf, a prospective employee who wears a headscarf for religious reasons, filed a lawsuit against A&F when they refused to hire her because her headscarf conflicted with the company’s “look policy,” which the company argues is part of its marketing strategy. The Supreme Court ruled that Abercrombie did, in fact, violate the law by discriminating against Elauf.
Abercrombie tried to claim that it wasn’t religious discrimination against Elauf, because the company didn’t absolutely know that Elauf wore the headscarf because she was Muslim. The judges did not agree, and they voted 8-1 against Abercrombie. In addressing the court, Justice Scalia made it clear that Abercrombie’s literalistic interpretation of “knowledge” just didn’t make sense. Abercrombie’s refusal to allow headscarves, even in the stockroom, was deemed unlawful. No one is harmed by the wearing of a headscarf by an employee. Abercrombie has since changed the “look policy” for the company.
Interestingly, this is not Abercrombie’s first lawsuit regarding headscarves. In 2013, 2 separate cases against Abercrombie were settled. In one, a stockroom worker was fired from the company when she refused to work without her headscarf. In the other case, a prospective employee was not hired because, like Elauf, her headscarf conflicted with the “look policy.” In both cases, Abercrombie settled out of court and agreed to pay the woman after a 3 year legal battle.
If you are an employee or prospective employee and are facing workplace discrimination of any kind, contact an attorney who specializes in labor and employment litigation. They will fight for your rights regarding discrimination, disability, harassment, wrongful termination, and much more.
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