In 2008, 17-year-old Samantha Elauf interviewed for a sales position at Abercrombie Kids in her local shopping centre in Tulsa.
To her interview she wore her usual attire, including her hijab and was swiftly denied the position based on her head scarf “clashing” with the employers “classic East Coast collegiate style,” the New York Times reported.
On behalf of Elauf, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company for religious discrimination, based on their exclusionary policies.
Justice Antonin Scalia stated that the company had obviously suspected Elauf’s attire was for religious reasons. Therefore, the decision not to hire her was based on a desire to avoid accommodating her religious practice.
Scalia then concluded that this was indeed enough evidence to sue the company under the federal employment discrimination law.
The court ruled in favour of Elauf 8-1 but Abercrombie & Fitch countered that it had no way of knowing the headscarf was worn for religious reasons. Despite this, the court upheld it’s initial decision.
“An applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need” Justice Scalia wrote.
The landmark discrimination case is a huge win for the freedom to wear religious attire in the workplace.
“At it’s root, this case is about defending the quintessentially American principals of religious freedom and tolerance,” said David Lopez – general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The hijab “is a symbol of modesty and respect, but that doesn’t mean that as Muslim girl’s we can’t speak with the way we style our hijabs into our daily outfits,” Elauf told Aslan media.
“People need to understand that even though you wear hijab, it doesn’t mean you are that much different from the average girl.”