The Supreme Court showed signs they favored Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman who did not get hired at Abercrombie & Fitch in Tulsa, Oklahoma, because she wore a headscarf. The retailer said the black headscarf she wore to her job interview violated the company’s "look policy."
The hourlong oral argument heard Wednesday included aggressive questions from liberal and conservative justices directed at the company’s lawyer. According to the Associated Press, Justice Samuel Alito indicated the retailer denied Elauf employment on the sole basis of her religious beliefs and the company’s unwillingness to accommodate them.
"You assumed she was going to do this every day. And the only reason she would do it every day was because she had a religious reason," Alito said.
The lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) focuses on whether Elauf should have been granted a religious exemption. Abercrombie & Fitch argues that because Elauf did not indicate the headscarf was worn for religious reasons, they are not liable for not offering accommodations for it.
The incident took place in 2008, when Elauf was 17 years old. At the time she was applying for a “model” (i.e., sales floor) position at an Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa. While she was considered apt for the role, her headscarf conflicted with the company’s "look policy," a branding mechanism employees must follow to further its college preppy style. Since then, the retailer has removed its hat ban but bars employees from wearing any black clothing or certain hairstyles.
“Ms. Elauf had been cautioned not to wear black clothing to the interview but nonetheless wore a black headscarf even though she held no religious belief that required her to wear black,” the brief written by Abercrombie & Fitch said.
A federal judge had previously ruled in Elauf’s favor. The EEOC filed a lawsuit on her behalf in which she was awarded $20,000. The 10th circuit court reversed that decision in October 2013. It has since been brought before the Supreme Court. A decision is expected in June.
While religious groups have backed Elauf’s case, business advocacy organizations have supported the retailer’s side, fearing they could face similar repercussions for unintentional religious discrimination, the Guardian reports.