Justices to Hear EEOC Case Involving Clothing Retailer’s Policy on Wearing Religious Gear

Does the 1964 Civil Rights Act only protects employees who provide “explicit notice of the need for a religious accommodation” or does an employer have to make accommodations anyway to a strict policy of no religious wear?

That’s the question the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on next year in a case it accepted today challenging retail clothing store Abercrombie and Fitch’s reasonable accommodation policy.

In this case, the EEOC filed suit against the retailer, alleging that it violated Title VII when it refused Samantha Elauf, then 17, a job at the retailer in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2008 because she wore a headscarf, violating the company’s “look policy,” which outlines how store staff should be groomed and dressed.

A federal judge initially found Abercrombie & Fitch liable for discrimination, but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado reversed, ruling that the 1964 Civil Rights Act only protects employees who provide “explicit notice of the need for a religious accommodation.”

The appeals court said that the EEOC had failed to establish that there was any dispute over the fact that Ms. Elauf never informed Abercrombie prior to its hiring decision that her practice of wearing her hijab stemmed from her religious beliefs and that she needed an accommodation for this (inflexible) practice.

The EEOC has taken aim at the retailer’s policy over the years, filing several lawsuits.

Oral argument in the case will be heard during this high court’s term with a decision expected by the end of June.

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