Abercrombie and Religious Accommodation

Posted by Shakil Rahman.

Americans pride themselves on the idea that their country is the land of the free, where people of different parts of the world could have the equal opportunity to live as they wish, pray freely, and be free to live without being persecuted for their beliefs. It is stated in the constitution and laws are created to make sure people’s rights are not infringed upon or people are discrimination for their beliefs. But there are times when the people seem to be discriminated against because of their beliefs and it spills into the national spotlight.

Abercrombie & Fitch are multimillion dollars clothing store and in one of their stores a Muslim woman named Samantha Elauf applied for a job but she was rejected. When inquired about why she was being rejected, the company replied that the company’s dress code is “classic East Coast collegiate style” and since she wore head scarf, a headwear named Hijab that Muslim women wear, which went against the dress code, she was not hired. Ms.Elauf filed a discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch and the case went to the Supreme Court after being going through trial court and appeals court. The defendant claimed that since the plaintiff did not specifically state that the head scarf was worn for religious reasons they did not discriminate the plaintiff. The Supreme Court justices voted 8-1 for the plaintiff stating that the company should have understood that the head scarf had a religious significance, since it is of common knowledge and therefore the plaintiff was being discriminated and that is prohibited by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The lawsuit against the company is based around the claim that the company rejected the applicant’s application for a job due to dress code violations knowing that it had religious significance. The reasoning given by the company was that the applicant did not specifically ask for religious accommodation, therefore there was no discrimination. While it is true that the applicant did not request religious accommodation, head scarves are commonly used for religious reasons in various religions and being ignorant of the fact is not valid argument. Therefore, when the company rejected Ms.Elauf’s application due to her wearing a head scarf, they were discriminating her based on her religious practices. Being ignorant of law is not sufficient excuse either, since the company is supposed to know the laws of the land it is conducting its business in.

In the modern world where globalization has brought the world, and the business world, laws are created to make sure that people are not discriminated for their personal life choices. But sometimes the laws are not interpreted in the same manner by people. For instance, for this lawsuit, the trial court granted the Plaintiff $20000 for the lawsuit, but the appeals court saw the same case and decided that there were no signs of discrimination and overturned the ruling, only for the ruling to be overturned by the Supreme Court. Interpretation of the law is an important part of the business world that must be done in a prudent manner by the courts but also by companies and individuals in order to avoid situations where a wrongdoing does not occur due to ignorance.

Shakil is a student at the Stillman School of Business, Seton Hall University.