The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA) and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) this morning welcomed what they called a historic ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a Muslim woman who sued Abercrombie & Fitch after she was denied a job because she wore a hijab (Islamic headscarf).
In an 8-1 vote, the Court ruled in favor of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that sued the company on behalf of Samantha Elauf. This case was originally brought to the EEOC on behalf of Elauf by CAIR’s Oklahoma office in 2008.
CAIR-SFBA and LAS-ELC filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the case, on behalf of Hani Khan.
Read Khan’s Amicus Brief.
Khan sued Abercrombie & Fitch after she was terminated from her work at the company for refusing to remove her hijab. That case was settled in 2013, following a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers that the company had violated federal and state civil rights laws by refusing to allow Khan to wear her hijab at work and rejecting its undue hardship and free speech defenses.
At issue in Elauf’s case was whether an employer is liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for refusing to hire an applicant or discharging an employee based on a “religious observance and practice” only if the employer has actual knowledge a religious accommodation was required and the actual knowledge resulted from direct, explicit notice from the applicant or employee.
In its ruling, the court stated in part:
“[R]eligious practice is one of the protected characteristics that cannot be accorded disparate treatment and must be accommodated . . . Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices — that they be treated no worse than other practices. Rather, it gives them favored treatment . . . Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.”
Ruling: EEOC v Abercrombie & Fitch
“This historic decision confirms the right of all employees to be free from workplace discrimination – in this case, on the basis of Ms. Elauf’s religion, Islam,” said Marsha Chien, a LAS-ELC staff attorney who represented Hani Khan in her suit against Abercrombie. “We are heartened that, just as in Ms. Khan’s case, the federal courts have affirmed that all Americans have a right to reasonable religious accommodation in the workplace. For Muslim women, this includes the right to wear a hijab to work.”
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has finally clarified the law especially in light of the disagreement amongst various courts nationally,” said Fatima Iqbal, the CAIR-SFBA Civil Rights Attorney. “It is important to note that the Supreme Court held that ‘Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.’ That means if an employer decides not to hire or fires someone because that person needs a religious accommodation, then the employer is violating the law as Abercrombie did when it refused to hire Ms. Elauf and when it fired our client Ms. Khan.”