Abercrombie & Fitch Ruling: The Clothing Retailer May Have Violated Workplace Discrimination Laws

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 against Abercrombie & Fitch on Monday, siding with Samantha Elauf who was denied a job by the clothing retailer because her head scarf, or hijab, did not fit in with their “look policy.” The Supreme Court ruled Abercrombie & Fitch may have violated workplace discrimination laws when they turned away Samantha Elauf for a job.

In 2008, Samantha Elauf applied for a position in sales at an Abercrombie children’s store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the time Elauf was 17 years old and wore her hijab to the interview but did not specifically state she wanted Abercrombie to give her a religious accommodation as a person of the Islamic faith. Elauf’s religion was not mentioned in the interview.

With support from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Elauf sued Abercrombie & Fitch when she was turned down for the job due to her hijab. According to the court, Samantha Elauf only needed to show that her need for religious accommodation was a factor in Abercrombie’s decision not to hire her.

Justice Antonin Scalia said Abercrombie “at least suspected” Elauf wore a headscarf for religious reasons.

“That is enough,” Scalia said.

Justice Scalia also wrote, “A request for accommodation… may make it easier to infer motive, but it is not a necessary condition of liability.”

Justice Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter. He said that “mere application of a neutral policy” should not be viewed as discrimination.

Civil rights law requires employers to accommodate workers’ religious beliefs in the workplace and forbids them from firing or not hiring someone because of their religious beliefs. Abercrombie & Fitch argued they didn’t know to make a religious accommodation because Elauf didn’t request one.

In a statement, Abercrombie said the case will continue, noting the court had not determined for certain that discrimination took place.

“We will determine our next steps in the litigation,” the statement said.

As mentioned earlier, Abercrombie & Fitch’s “look policy” doesn’t allow employees to wear hats and is in place for the brand to promote an East Coast preppy look. In April Abercrombie said in a statement it replaced the “look policy” with a new dress code that allows associates to be more individualistic while also changing hiring practices so that “attractiveness” is no longer a factor. Abercrombie’s “look policy” has been under scrutiny before when it was found out the company wasn’t hiring certain people because they weren’t deemed to be attractive enough to work there.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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