On June 1, 2015, the United States Supreme Court reversed a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit which had granted Abercrombie & Fitch (“Abercrombie”) summary judgment in a religious accommodation case brought by a job applicant who wore a headscarf (a hijab) to an interview, but did not mention her religion or request an exception to Abercrombie’s dress code.
The Court’s 8-1 decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. rejected the Tenth Circuit’s holding that, to prove discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), it is an applicant’s burden to advise an employer of a religious practice necessitating accommodation. Instead, the Court found that a job applicant need only demonstrate that a prospective employer’s desire to avoid providing a religious accommodation was a motivating factor in its decision not to hire, not that the employer actually knew of the need for an accommodation.
The Court explained that, while some antidiscrimination statutes impose a knowledge requirement (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which defines discrimination to include an employer’s failure to make a reasonable accommodation to the “known” physical or mental limitations of an applicant), Title VII contains no such limitation. Rather Title VII’s intentional discrimination provision “prohibits certain motives.”
Accordingly, “an employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.” In sum, “the rule for disparate-treatment claims based on a failure to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.” Find links to the case and more here.