US SC leans towards Muslim woman in Abercrombie case
The US Supreme Court appeared Wednesday to be supportive of a Muslim woman who claimed she was denied a sales job with fashion retailers Abercrombie & Fitch as a teen because of her Islamic headscarf.
Supreme Court appeared Wednesday to be supportive of a Muslim woman who claimed she was denied a sales job with fashion retailers Abercrombie & Fitch as a teen because of her Islamic headscarf.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal government agency, is suing Abercrombie on behalf of Samantha Elauf, on the grounds she was discriminated against because of the firm's dress code.
The clothing company is known for populating its stores with bare-chested male models and female staff in somewhat racy attire.
Its salespeople are required to conform to "Abercrombie style", defined as a "classic East Coast collegiate style."
The company does not allow employees to wear "caps" of any kind or the color black, but scarves are not explicitly forbidden.
Any departure from the dress code is regarded as grounds for disciplinary action, including dismissal, on the basis that it can negatively impact the company's image, brand and sales.
But during a one-hour long hearing at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, several justices appeared to be troubled by the case.
Attorneys arguing Elauf's case say she is protected by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars anyone from being refused employment based on their religion, unless the employer cannot accommodate the person's religious beliefs without adversely affecting business.
Abercrombie is fighting the case, arguing that Elauf did not specifically request an exemption from the company's dress code on religious grounds.
All but one of the nine Supreme Court justices, whether progressive or conservative, seemed to be leaning towards the side of the government and the numerous religious organizations that have taken up the cause of the young Muslim, who was 17 at the time of her 2008 interview.
"The only reason she was not hired is because of her religious belief," Justice Samuel Alito noted.
Given that Abercrombie's dress code did not apply to job interviews, the company had presumed that Elauf would wear the scarf each day at work if hired, Alito said.