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SCOTUS revives employment discrimination lawsuit over hijab

The Supreme Court of the United States recently handed down a very important decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, an employment discrimination case involving a job applicant’s wearing of a traditional head scarf known as a hijab.

The case in question originated back in 2008, when a then 17-year-old girl applied for a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch kids clothing store located in a Tulsa, Oklahoma shopping mall. She was ultimately not hired by the store, which claimed that her hijab was not in keeping with the store’s dress code.

A federal discrimination lawsuit ultimately filed by the EEOC against the clothing store, known for its “classic East Coast collegiate style,” proved successful, as a jury awarded the girl $20,000.

On appeal, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reversed the decision, holding that the trial should never have been allowed to proceed given that the girl failed to inform the clothing store before it made its hiring decision that her hijab was worn for religious reasons.

The EEOC appealed this decision to SCOTUS, arguing that a prospective employee is not required to disclose such information.

In an 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court sided with the EEOC, holding that the girl was not required to make any sort of specific request for religious accommodation in order to file a religious discrimination claim pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Title VII forbids adverse employment decisions made with a forbidden motive, whether this motive derives from actual knowledge, a well-founded suspicion or merely a hunch,” said Justice Scalia in announcing the high court’s decision from the bench.

Specifically, Scalia indicated that it appeared as if Abercrombie had suspicions that the girl wore her hijab for a religious reason, chose not to hire her because it didn’t want to accommodate these religious reasons, and that was sufficient to pursue a federal discrimination lawsuit.

“An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions,” read the opinion.      

The case, which was remanded to the 10th Circuit for reconsideration, was lauded by religious advocacy groups, including those representing Jews, Muslims and Sikhs.

If you believe that you have been victimized by any sort of discrimination in the workplace — religious or otherwise — please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your options, and your rights under both state and federal law. 

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