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Court Finds for EEOC in Religious Discrimination Suit Against Abercrombie & Fitch

A federal court has agreed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that national clothing retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch, doing business as Abercrombie Kids, committed religious discrimination against a 17-year-old Muslim girl, the agency announced today.  The EEOC had charged that Abercrombie Kids failed to hire Samantha Elauf for a sales position because she wore a hijab, or head scarf, in observance of her sincerely held religious beliefs.  

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frizzell granted summary judgment to the EEOC after finding that Abercrombie and Fitch failed to produce sufficient evidence to dispute the EEOC’s claims (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., Case No. 09-CV-602-GKF-FHM).  Damages will be determined by a jury at a later date.  

The court found that Abercrombie Kids refused to hire Elauf in June 2008 for a position at its store in Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Okla., because she was wearing the hijab when she was interviewed and this violated the company’s “look policy.”  The “look policy” prohibited the wearing of any head coverings.  Abercrombie claimed that allowing Elauf to wear a hijab would cause an undue burden on the conduct of its business.  

The court, noting that Abercrombie and Fitch had allowed numerous exceptions to its “look policy,” including eight or nine head scarf exceptions, found Abercrombie had “completely failed to consider the impact, if any, of those exceptions” and that its evidence was thus too speculative.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, protects workers from discrimination based upon religion.  This includes disparate treatment, harassment and segregation of employees based on religion.  Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for the religious practices of its applicants and employees when to do so would not be an undue hardship.

“The EEOC is committed to enforcing the prohibition of all forms of religious discrimination,” said P. David Lopez, EEOC General Counsel. “In this case, the Court's ruling makes clear an employer's ‘corporate image’ policy does not relieve an employer of the obligation to provide a reasonable religious accommodation.”

Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office, which is responsible for the agency’s litigation in Oklahoma, said, “Samantha is a typical American teenager who has a sincere religious belief that she must wear a head scarf.  Employers need to understand their obligation to balance employees’ needs and rights to practice their religion with the conduct of their business.  Where there is a minimal impact on the business, those religious needs must be accommodated.” 

Jeff A. Lee, one of the EEOC trial attorneys representing the EEOC, said, “The court has sent a clear message to employers: that the denial of a request for a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s or applicant’s religious beliefs must be based on demonstrated facts, not guesswork or speculation.”

© Copyright U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

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