US top court rules for Muslim woman denied job over head scarf

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Supreme Court Rules for Muslim Woman Denied Job at Abercrombie & Fitch

Reuters -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a Muslim woman who sued after being denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch Co. clothing store in Oklahoma because she wore a head scarf for religious reasons.

On an 8-1 vote in an important religious rights case, the court handed a victory to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that sued the company on behalf of Samantha Elauf. She was denied a sales job in 2008 at an Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa when she was 17.

The legal question before the court was whether Elauf was required to ask for a religious accommodation in order for the company to be sued under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which, among other things, bans employment discrimination based on religious beliefs and practices.

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US top court rules for Muslim woman denied job over head scarf
Samantha Elauf stands outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. The Supreme Court is indicating it will side with a Muslim woman who didn't get hired by clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a black headscarf that conflicted with the company's dress code to her job interview. Liberal and conservative justices aggressively questioned the company's lawyer during arguments at the high court Wednesday in a case that deals with when an employer must take steps to accommodate the religious beliefs of a job applicant or worker. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Zainab Chaudry joins other demonstrators outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. The Supreme Court is indicating it will side with a Samantha Elauf, who didn't get hired by clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a black headscarf that conflicted with the company's dress code to her job interview. Liberal and conservative justices aggressively questioned the company's lawyer during arguments at the high court Wednesday in a case that deals with when an employer must take steps to accommodate the religious beliefs of a job applicant or worker. Elauf did not say she was wearing the scarf for religious reasons. But Justice Samuel Alito seemed to speak for many on the bench when he said there was no reason not to hire her unless the company assumed she would wear a headscarf to work because of her religion. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Samantha Elauf, center, her mother Majda Elauf, left, and P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), leave the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. The Supreme Court is indicating it will side with a Muslim woman who didn't get hired by clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a black headscarf that conflicted with the company's dress code to her job interview. Liberal and conservative justices aggressively questioned the company's lawyer during arguments at the high court Wednesday in a case that deals with when an employer must take steps to accommodate the religious beliefs of a job applicant or worker. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Samantha Elauf, right, with her mother Majda Elauf stand outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. The Supreme Court is indicating it will side with a Muslim woman who didn't get hired by clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a black headscarf that conflicted with the company's dress code to her job interview. Liberal and conservative justices aggressively questioned the company's lawyer during arguments at the high court Wednesday in a case that deals with when an employer must take steps to accommodate the religious beliefs of a job applicant or worker. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Demonstrators from left, Lauren Schreiber, Fahim Gulamali, Umna Khan and Zainab Chaundry, stand outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. The Supreme Court is indicating it will side with a Samantha Elauf, who didn't get hired by clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a black headscarf that conflicted with the company's dress code to her job interview. Liberal and conservative justices aggressively questioned the company's lawyer during arguments at the high court Wednesday in a case that deals with when an employer must take steps to accommodate the religious beliefs of a job applicant or worker. Elauf did not say she was wearing the scarf for religious reasons. But Justice Samuel Alito seemed to speak for many on the bench when he said there was no reason not to hire her unless the company assumed she would wear a headscarf to work because of her religion. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Samantha Elauf (C), her mother Majda Elauf (L) of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission General Counsel David Lopes leave the U.S. Supreme Court after the court heard oral arguments in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Elauf filed a charge of religious discrimination with the EEOC saying Abercrombie & Fitch violated discrimination laws in 2008 by declining to hire her because she wore a head scarf, a symbol of her Muslim faith. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Samantha Elauf of Tulsa, Oklahoma, appears outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the court heard oral arguments in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Elauf filed a charge of religious discrimination with the EEOC saying Abercrombie & Fitch violated discrimination laws in 2008 by declining to hire her because she wore a head scarf, a symbol of her Muslim faith. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Majda Elauf (C with grey scarf) of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is surrounded by journalists as they interview her daughter, Samantha Elauf, outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the court heard oral arguments in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Elauf filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying Abercrombie & Fitch violated discrimination laws in 2008 by declining to hire her because she wore a head scarf, a symbol of her Muslim faith. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Lauren Schreiber (L) and Umna Khan join other supporters from The Council on American-Islamic Relations during a news conference outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the court heard oral arguments in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Samantha Elauf of Tulsa, Oklahoma, filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying Abercrombie & Fitch violated discrimination laws in 2008 by declining to hire her because she wore a head scarf, a symbol of her Muslim faith. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Samantha Elauf (C), her mother Majda Elauf (2nd R) of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission General Counsel David Lopez (R) leave the U.S. Supreme Court after the court heard oral arguments in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Elauf filed a charge of religious discrimination with the EEOC saying Abercrombie & Fitch violated discrimination laws in 2008 by declining to hire her because she wore a head scarf, a symbol of her Muslim faith. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Monday's ruling was the second decision by the high court during its current term in favor of a Muslim alleging discrimination. In January, the justices found that an Arkansas policy prohibiting inmates from having beards violated the religious rights of a prisoner who had wanted to grow one in accordance with his Muslim beliefs.

The court has taken an expansive view of religious rights. Last year, it sided with a Christian-owned company that objected on religious grounds to providing health insurance coverage for certain contraceptives.

Abercombie said in a statement that the case will continue, noting that the court had not determined that discrimination took place.

"We will determine our next steps in the litigation," the statement said.

The court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled that Elauf needed only to show that her need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision.

Elauf was wearing a head scarf, or hijab, at the job interview but did not specifically say that, as a Muslim, she wanted the company to give her a religious accommodation.

"A request for accommodation ... may make it easier to infer motive, but it is not a necessary condition of liability," Scalia wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the sole dissenter. He said that "mere application of a neutral policy" should not be viewed as discrimination.

The company denied Elauf the job on the grounds that wearing the scarf violated its "look policy" for members of the sales staff, a policy intended to promote the brand's East Coast collegiate image.

Abercombie said in its statement that in April it replaced the "look policy" with "a new dress code that allows associates to be more individualistic" while also changing hiring practices so that "attractiveness" is no longer a factor.

Muslim groups said in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Elauf that employment discrimination against Muslims is widespread in the United States. Often, the act of a woman wearing a head scarf is what triggers the discrimination, according to the brief. The EEOC has reported that Muslims file more employment claims about discrimination and the failure to provide religious accommodations than any other religious group.

Groups representing Christians, Jews and Sikhs also filed court papers backing Elauf.

The case involving a young Muslim woman alleging workplace discrimination in the American heartland was decided by the top U.S. court at a time when some Western nations are struggling with culture clashes relating to accommodating Muslim populations. The United States has not, however, faced the same tensions as some European countries including France.

The case is EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, U.S. Supreme Court, No.14-86.

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