Abercrombie & Fitch clothing stores require employees to adhere to a “look policy,” calculated to showcase the store’s aesthetic sensibility. Among other things, the policy requires that employees abstain from wearing “caps” while working.
In 2008, a Muslim woman applied for a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch’s store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her faith requires her to wear a hijab—a traditional Muslim headscarf. She interviewed for the position while wearing a hijab, but did not specifically call attention to the fact that she, like many Muslim women, wore the headscarf for religious reasons. The employee that interviewed her thought that she was a good candidate for the job, but was instructed not to hire her because the hijab would be inconsistent with the store’s “look policy.”
The EEOC sued Abercrombie & Fitch for failure to reasonably accommodate the applicant’s religious exercise and won in the district court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, however, reversed on the grounds that she had not specifically requested that the store accommodate her religious practice. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in October 2014.
In December of 2014, we joined an amicus brief in support of the applicant. Our brief argued that the Tenth Circuit’s position would encourage employers to avoid antidiscrimination laws through a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and would leave religious minorities especially vulnerable to discrimination.
The case was argued in February 2015 and the Supreme Court in June 2015 ruled in favor of the woman by reinstating the case and remanding it to the Tenth Circuit for further consideration. A month later, the appeals court dismissed the case at Abercrombie & Fitch’s request. The company agreed to pay nearly $26,000 in damages to the woman and $19,000 in court costs.