FASHION LAW: A&F RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION CASE HEADS TO SUPREME COURT
Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) has hit headlines again; but now the case against their “absurd” dress code restrictions for employees has encroached the door of the Supreme Court—a case of extreme measure? Perhaps.
Upon entering any A&F retail store it is easy to pinpoint exactly who the employees are by either their model-like physique (worth mentioning that all A&F salesmen and women are called “models”) or their workplace attire. In 2008, a then 17 year-old Muslim teenager, Samantha Elauf, expressed interest in working at the store. She challenged the rules governing A&F’s wardrobe upon rejection. During Elauf’s interview she donned a hijab, or headscarf worn by some Muslim women.
Prior to the interview Elauf, having been well versed in A&F’s strict “look policy”, turned to a friend who had particular ties with the store’s manager to inquire about whether a hijab would be acceptable work attire. The manager mentioned that since he’d worked with someone who wore a yarmulke (Jewish male headpiece), her hijab would most likely not present an issue. Taking said advice, Elauf wore an “Abercrombie and Fitch-like T-shirt and jeans” plus a black hijab.
During the interview, neither the interviewer or Elauf mentioned her hijab or possible related religious beliefs; however, the interviewer did mention other aspects of A&F’s look policy such as excessive makeup. Upon completion, Elauf scored a two out of three for appearance with a total score of 6 – a score that otherwise would have categorized her as a shoe-in. But the interviewer, uncertain about A&F’s policy towards Elauf’s headpiece, directed her question to the stores higher-ups who concluded that a headscarf would be inconsistent with the store’s look policy. Elauf’s appearance score was then changed to a one out of three bringing her total score to 5: one point shy of a job recommendation.
Elauf then filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint who then sued the retailer for religious discrimination. What would have been an open-and-shut case resulting in the federal court summarily deciding for the EEOC, the 10th Circuit reversed issuing summary judgment for A&F.
Now, the Supreme Court will decide if Elauf was denied a job because of her headscarf on the premise that she specifically failed to request a religious accommodation. A ruling on the case, EEOC vs. Abercrombie & Fitch is expected next June.