SCOTUS headscarf decision a victory for workplace religious freedom for all people
June 1, 2015: Read the BJC’s press release from decision day
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the importance of protecting religious freedom in the workplace in its 8-1 ruling today, noting that employers have a duty to reasonably accommodate employees’ religion and avoid religious discrimination against prospective employees.
The decision is consistent with arguments in a brief signed by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) and 14 other groups, defending a person’s right to wear a religiously-motivated headscarf while at work.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees based on religion, and the decision notes that it “prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that it could accommodate without undue hardship.”
K. Hollyn Hollman, general counsel for the BJC, said the Court’s decision means religion should not disqualify anyone from a job. “The Court today confirmed the fundamental principle in Title VII’s ban on religious discrimination in employment. Neither a person’s religion nor the potential need to accommodate a religious practice should be a basis for denying a prospective employee a job.”
The Court’s decision, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, points out that detailed knowledge of a religious practice is not necessary. “An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions,” according to the decision.
The case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., involves Samantha Elauf, who was denied a retail job at the Abercrombie Kids store, run by Abercrombie & Fitch. During the interview, Elauf wore a headscarf, which she believes her Muslim faith requires her to wear. The interviewer neither inquired about it nor suggested that wearing one would be prohibited, and she rated Elauf as someone who should be hired. But, a higher-ranking employee said the headscarf would violate Abercrombie’s “Look Policy” that prohibits “caps” – a term that is not defined. Elauf was not offered a job, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Abercrombie on Elauf’s behalf.
The BJC joined the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and 13 other groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, American Civil Liberties Union, Christian Legal Society and American Islamic Congress, in a friend-of-the-court brief defending Elauf’s right to wear the religiously-motivated garb while at work.
The brief makes clear that this case is not just about an individual’s desire to wear religious garb. “Protection of religiously motivated conduct in the employment setting is highly important to believers of virtually all stripes, and to the religious bodies to which they belong,” according to the brief.
The Supreme Court heard the case on Feb. 25, 2015.
Read the brief (PDF document).
More on EEOC v. Abercrombie:
BJC Blog: Three things to know about the Abercrombie ruling
(June 2, 2015)
Amicus brief filed by BJC and 14 other groups (PDF document)
BJC Blog: Preview of oral arguments (Feb. 24, 2015)