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Clothing store may have discriminated against job applicant for headscarf

June 3, 2015

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch may have discriminated against a Muslim job applicant for denying her employment because her headscarf ran afoul of its no “caps” dress policy. In an 8–1 decision, the Court made it clear that employers have a heightened responsibility to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of job applicants and workers, regardless of whether their beliefs are explicitly communicated.

In this case, the 17-year-old job applicant never explained why she wore a hijab. The employer assumed the headscarf was for religious purposes but made no inquiry to verify that belief. The Court stated that “[a]n employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.” The Court affirmed that employers “may not make an [employee’s] religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.” The Court remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit for further consideration based on the Court’s ruling. 

Employers should pay special attention to provisions in their employee handbooks regarding work hours, dress and grooming proscriptions, and other policies that could implicate religious beliefs. Except in cases that would result in “undue hardship,” employers have a legal duty to reasonably accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs and practices.

To read the Court’s full opinion, see EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch. If you have any questions about this decision, please contact one of Honigman’s Labor and Employment attorneys.