Federal Appeals Court Dismisses Abercrombie Appeal in Religious Discrimination Case

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A federal appeals court dismissed Abercrombie & Fitch's appeal of EEOC's religious discrimination case against the company.  This represents the final resolution of EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, which was first filed in 2009.  The case involved Abercrombie's refusal to hire Samantha Elauf, a Muslim, because of her religious practice of wearing a hijab.  Elauf filed her charge with the EEOC in 2008.

The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Abercrombie's appeal of EEOC's case against the company due to Abercrombie's decision to settle EEOC's claims following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of EEOC.  The company has paid $25,670 in damages to Elauf and $18,983 in court costs.  

In its June 1, 2015 decision, the Supreme Court held that an employer may not refuse to hire an applicant if the employer was motivated by avoiding the need to accommodate a religious practice. Such behavior violates the prohibition on religious discrimination contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case arose when Elauf, then a teenager who wore a headscarf or hijab as part of her Muslim faith, applied for a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in her hometown of Tulsa, Okla.  She was denied hire for failing to conform to the company's "look policy," which Abercrombie claimed banned head coverings.  Elauf then filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging religious discrimination, and the EEOC filed suit against Abercrombie, charging that the company refused to hire Elauf due to her religion, and that it failed to accommodate her religious beliefs by making an exception to its "look policy" prohibiting head coverings.

The district court granted summary judgment on liability to EEOC after holding that the evidence established that Elauf wore the hijab as part of her Muslim faith, that Abercrombie was on notice of the religious nature of her practice, and that it refused to hire her as a result.  A jury subsequently awarded Elauf damages for the discrimination.

Abercrombie appealed and a divided panel of the Tenth Circuit court ruled for the company.  The court of appeals held that Abercrombie was not on sufficient notice of Elauf's religious practice because, despite correctly "assuming" that Elauf wore a headscarf because of her religion, the company did not receive from Elauf explicit, verbal notice of a conflict between the "look policy" and her religious practice.  The evidence in the case included that Abercrombie never disclosed to Elauf the "no head coverings" rule in its "look policy."  The Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit's decision and ruled in favor of EEOC.

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