Abercrombie & Fitch Co.’s appeal of a lawsuit accusing the company of religious discrimination was thrown out today by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The decision ends a multi-year legal battle that began in 2009 when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company for religious discrimination on behalf of then-17-year-old Samantha Elauf.
Elauf in 2008 had applied for a job at one of the company’s local stores in Tulsa, Okla. and during the interview wore a black head scarf, or hijab. She was subsequently not hired for a sales position at the company because wearing a head scarf would have went against the company’s “look policy” in which store employees are expected to wear clothing similar to what’s sold in A&F stores.
“I was a teenager who loved fashion and was eager to work for Abercrombie & Fitch,” Elauf said in a statement issued by the EEOC. “Observance of my faith should not have prevented me from getting a job.”
Elauf has been paid $25,670 in damages by Abercrombie stemming from a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma decision in 2011. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 reversed the ruling in favor of the retailer on the basis that Elauf did not make it clear the policy conflicted with her religious beliefs.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled eight to one in June to reverse and remand the case back to the court of appeals, which makes it clear now that the burden of proof in such cases does not fall on an employee or job applicant to make a specific request for a religious accommodation.
“We are pleased to have resolved this matter, which relates to events in 2008, and to be moving forward,” an Abercrombie spokesperson said. “A&F remains focused on ensuring the company has an open-minded and tolerant workplace environment for all current and future store associates. We have made significant enhancements to our store associate policies, including the replacement of the ‘look policy’ with a new dress code that allows associates to be more individualistic; changed our hiring practices to not consider attractiveness; and changed store associates’ titles from ‘Model’ to ‘Brand Representative’ to align with their new customer focus. A&F has a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and consistent with the law, has granted numerous religious accommodations when requested, including hijabs.”
EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said: “We were extremely pleased with the Supreme Court ruling in our favor, which has reinforced our longstanding efforts to enforce Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination. We are now even more pleased to have final resolution of this case and to have Ms. Elauf receive the monetary damages awarded to her by a jury in 2011.”