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US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

  • VOA News

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on a discrimination claim by a Muslim woman who was rejected for a job at a prominent clothing store popular with young people because she wore a hijab.

Court justices signaled support for Samantha Elauf. The nine justices heard a one-hour argument in an appeal brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that sued the company on her behalf.

Elauf was 17 when she applied for a sales job in 2008 at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in the southwestern city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Store officials decided she did not meet the retailer's "appearance and sense of style" criteria.

The legal question is 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.

She 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.

But the retailer said it has since granted religious accommodations to workers, when requested, that allow women to wear hijabs.

Following a lawsuit for discrimination, a jury awarded Elauf $20,000, but an appeals court overturned the verdict, concluding Abercrombie was not liable for damages because she never asked for a religious accommodation.

During the oral argument, it appeared the four liberal justices are likely to vote in Elauf's favor. At least one of the court's conservatives, Justice Samuel Alito, seems set to follow suit. Alito said employers like Abercrombie could avoid similar situations by simply asking prospective employees if they are able to abide by work rules.

In hearing this case, the Supreme Court is considering whether prospective employees wanting a religious accommodation must ask for it or whether businesses are obligated to figure out whether one is needed.

A ruling is likely at the end of June.

Some material for this report came from Reuters

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