The EEOC scored a victory over retailer Abercrombie & Fitch regarding a religious accommodation violation. The case involves a woman who interviewed with the retailer while donning a headscarf. The manager elected not to hire the prospective employee, not because of a then undisclosed religious affiliation, but because her attire violated A&F’s strict dress code.
So ignited a case with many twists and turns. The woman, who was indeed a practicing Muslim, along with the EEOC, sued Abercrombie in federal court for violation of Title VII and won, despite the fact the woman never expressed a desire for religious accommodation.
Later, the ruling was reversed by the 10th Circuit, who reasoned that a company’s failure to accommodate a religious practice could not violate Title VII unless the employer has actual knowledge of a person’s need for an accommodation.
However, when the Supreme Court took a look, they ruled that employers do not need to have actual knowledge of a person’s need for a religious accommodation to violate ‘Title VII’. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, or Title VII, makes discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin illegal.
The majority opinion on the perplexing case states that Title VII is not neutral regarding religion. Instead, Title VII gives religious practices “favored treatment,” placing affirmative obligations on employers to accommodate religious practices, whether known or suspected.
The EEOC and the prospective employee are victorious, for now, but Abercrombie may have one more play. In 1977, the Supreme Court established a “de minimis” rule — any accommodation causing more than a de minimis cost (impacting a business monetarily or otherwise) would be an undue hardship. Could throwing out a dress code to accommodate one employee be a considered a hardship on a business like Abercrombie? We’ll keep you posted.
If you have been a victim of employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, contact the employment Law Offices of Stoltze and Updegraff PLC for help today.
Source: National Law Review, “EEOC Wins Big at Supreme Court on Religious Accommodation Case”, accessed June 1, 2015