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Equal Treatment of Employees May Not Equal Religious Accommodation

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Monday June 1, in favor of a woman who sued Abercrombie & Fitch over religious discrimination. The woman alleged that the clothing company did not hire her because of her religious head covering. Many Muslim women choose to wear a head covering called a hijab, and the Columbus-based clothing company argued that the covering was against their dress policy.

The Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the woman, and said that Abercrombie & Fitch failed to accommodate a job applicant’s religious needs. Also of note, the Court stated that the woman need not prove that Abercrombie & Fitch knew that the headscarf was worn for religious reasons, only that the headscarf was actually worn for religious reasons.

Abercrombie argued in the case that their policy was neutral. All employees had to abide by the same rules, so it could not be intentional discrimination. The Court disagreed. “But Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices—that they be treated no worse than other practices. Rather, it gives them favored treatment, affirmatively obligating employers not ‘to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual…because of such individual’s religious observance or practice.’ An employer is surely entitled to have, for example, a no-headwear policy as an ordinary matter. But when an applicant requires an accommodation as an aspect of religious practice, it is no response that the subsequent failure to hire was due to an otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.”

Employers need to consider the Supreme Court’s ruling when determining their hiring practices, religious accommodations, and other employment policies. Employers with questions should contact an attorney.

A full copy of the decision by the Court can be found at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-86_p86b.pdf

Chad Stonebrook is an Associate Attorney at Lardiere McNair LLC.  Lardiere McNair LLC has a practice in which advises and assists both employers and employees with their employment concerns. To read more about Chad, please visit http://www.lmcounsel.com/chads-bio.html.

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