By Matthew Stoloff

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that an employer violated anti-discrimination laws by refusing to hire an applicant based on speculation over the need for religious accommodations.

On June 1, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court placed employers on notice that if they suspect a job applicant practices a particular religion and might need a workplace accommodation, a refusal to hire that applicant based on those suspicions violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The decision, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., is attached.

In the Abercrombie & Fitch case, Ms. Elauf wore a headscarf to her job interview at Abercrombie.  Based on her dress, the interviewer suspected – but did not know for certain – that Ms. Elauf was a Muslim. Although Ms. Elauf passed the interview, Abercrombie did not hire her because the headscarf violated the Company’s “Look Policy,” which prohibited employees from wearing head caps.

Contrary to popular media, the U.S. Supreme Court did not decide that Abercrombie violated the law. The Court only addressed the legal issue of whether an employer must know the job applicant’s religious beliefs in order to violate Title VII.  The Court found, “knowledge of a job applicant’s religion is not required to prove religious discrimination.” The mere suspicion that a job applicant practices a particular form of religion, coupled with the employer’s motive to avoid offering that applicant a religious accommodation, is sufficient to establish a cause of action for religious discrimination under Title VII.

The bottom line: discrimination on the basis of religion is unlawful. If a company maintains a “Look Policy” or requires a certain dress code or grooming requirement, religious accommodation issues will no doubt come into play.  If you need help navigating these complicated issues, seek legal counsel.



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