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Abercrombie & Fitch hijab discrimination case before Supreme Court

A major employment discrimination case before the U.S. Supreme Court addresses how employers must respect their employees’ religious practices, when they are not certain what religion those workers believe in.

On Feb. 25, justices heard oral arguments in a case that pits upscale teenage clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch against a young Muslim woman who was turned down for a job at one of the company’s stores because she wore a hijab, a type of headscarf, to her interview. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also part of the suit.

Abercrombie has a “Look Policy” when it comes to their salespeople, whom they call “sales models.” The policy governs what clothing models are allowed to wear while on the sales floor. The plaintiff was 17 when she applied for a job at a local Abercrombie store. She interviewed with an assistant manager, who said the plaintiff appeared to be a good candidate based on the company’s “competencies,” and promised that the plaintiff would hear something in a few days.

When Abercrombie never called, the plaintiff asked a friend who worked at the store. The friend told her that management had decided that the plaintiff’s hijab violated the Look Policy. She met with the store manager and the district manager, who confirmed that account.

The plaintiff said she was told that, though the managers believed her headscarf was for religious purposes, the regional manager refused to hire her. The manager believed it would lead to a job applicant claiming the paint themselves green for religious purposes.

Abercrombie says it did not violate the law, because it only guessed that the plaintiff was Muslim. It did not know for sure. For their party, the EEOC and the plaintiff argue that the fact that she did not specifically disclose her religion during the job interview, which employers cannot require, does not matter. Otherwise, employers could easily discriminate against certain religions, then claim they were off the hook because they did not know the applicants’ religions for certain.

We will now await the Supreme Court’s ruling on this case.