SCOTUS Sides With Muslim Girl In Religious Freedom Battle

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Casey Harper Contributor
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The Supreme Court voted Monday to expand the religious expression rights of workers after a legal dispute that began when Abercrombie and Fitch refused to hire a Muslim girl in 2008.

The Supreme Court voted 8-1 that companies cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants for religious reasons.

Abercrombie and Fitch, a company known for its preppy style and aesthetic standards for employees, has gotten in trouble before for its “look policy,” the company’s standards for how employees look and dress. In this case, the look policy was used to prevent a Muslim girl wearing a headscarf for religious reasons from working at the store.

Heather Cooke, the assistant manager at an Abercrombie and Fitch store, interviewed Samantha Elauf, the Muslim girl who wears a headscarf for religious reasons.

Cooke found in the interview process that Elauf was qualified to work there but believed her headscarf might violate the store’s look policy. Cook told her bosses she believed the headscarf was worn for religious reasons and asked for guidance from her higher ups, who told her the headscarf would violate the policy.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission sued Abercrombie in on behalf of Elauf, claiming she was a victim of religious discrimination. The EEOC won in the District Court, but the Tenth Circuit reversed the decision, saying the job applicant must tell the employer about their religious belief so they have “actual knowledge.” Before that knowledge, the company is not liable, the Tenth Circuit Ruled.

The Supreme Court decided that wasn’t right. SCOTUS ruled that Abercrombie violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when the head scarf was a “motivating factor” in the decision to not hire Elauf.

The knowledge point of The Tenth Circuit was downplayed by the court because Abercrombie knew of or at least suspected Elauf’s religious affiliation when they refused to hire her.

“Thus, rather than imposing a knowledge standard, §2000e–2(a)(1) prohibits certain motives, regardless of the state of the actor’s knowledge: An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions,” the ruling Syllabus reads.

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Casey Harper