Support: Elauf is pictured with her mother Majda Elauf, left, and P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as they leave the Supreme Court in Washington
Elham Asaad Buaras
A majority of US Supreme Court justices have shown sympathy for a Muslim woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a head scarf.
On February 24, the nine justices heard an appeal brought by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Samantha Elauf.
Elauf, who was denied a job at an Abercrombie Kids store in Oklahoma in 2008 when she was 17, attended the Supreme Court in Washington for the hearing with her mother.
It appeared the court’s four liberal justices were likely to vote in Elauf’s favor, while at least one of the court’s conservatives, Justice Samuel Alito, seems set to follow suit.
The legal issue is whether Elauf was required to ask the company to accommodate her religious practice.
Abercrombie & Fitch said she did not ask them to change their policy and so they cannot be sued under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The company said it has previously granted religious accommodations when they have requested.
Elauf was wearing a hijab, at her job interview but did not specifically say that, as a Muslim, she wanted the company to give her a religious accommodation.
But her interviewer assumed she was wearing it for religious reasons. She was impressed by Elauf but when she consulted a manager, they did not give her the job.
The company denied Elauf the job on the grounds that wearing the scarf violated its image for staff.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the civil rights law requires certain people to be treated differently to other applicants if they have a religious requirement.
“They don’t have to accommodate a baseball cap. They do have to accommodate a yarmulke,” Ginsburg said, in a reference to the cap worn by some Jewish men.
Justice Samuel Alito said employers like Abercrombie could easily find out if prospective employees need a religious accommodation by simply asking if they are able to abide by work rules.
He noted that Abercrombie had assumed Elauf would wear the head scarf every day simply because she wore it at the interview. “Maybe she just had a bad hair day,” Alito said.
Other conservative justices were more skeptical about the Government’s arguments.
Chief Justice John Roberts speculated that putting the burden on the employee to assess whether a religious accommodation is needed “may promote stereotypes to a far greater degree” by requiring interviewers to inquire about applicants’ religious beliefs.
A ruling is due by the end of June.