The justices of the US Supreme Court overwhelming voted Monday in favor of a Muslim woman who alleged that clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) discriminated against her by denying her a job after she turned up to an interview wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which brought the suit on Samantha Elauf's behalf, applauded the court's 8-1 vote in its favor Monday, saying "This ruling protects the rights of workers to equal treatment in the workplace without having to sacrifice their religious beliefs or practices."
The case had dragged on since 2008, when Elauf, then 17, confronted the store's infamous "look policy" — which dictates staff guidelines on clothing accessories, and even makeup — by wearing a black headscarf to her interview at a Tulsa, Oklahoma branch of the clothier.
"I learned I was not hired by Abercrombie because I wear a head scarf, which is a symbol of modesty in my Muslim faith," Elauf said after oral arguments had been presented to the court in February.
The EEOC claimed that A&F had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents companies from refusing to employ someone based on race, color, sex, national origin, and religion. A&F claimed that Elauf should have requested accommodation from the company. The court was tasked with deciding if it is the company's responsibility to accommodate potential staffers.
The case first saw light in an Oklahoma federal court, where a judge sided with Elauf in 2011, and then went through the 10th US circuit court of appeals, where that decision was reversed in October 2013. It reached the US Supreme Court in late 2014.
Abercrombie & Fitch released a statement after the decision Monday, saying, "While the Supreme Court reversed the 10th Circuit decision, it did not determine that A&F discriminated against Ms. Elauf."
"We will determine our next steps in the litigation, which the Supreme Court remanded for further consideration," the statement read, according to the Guardian.
The company has changed its "look policy" to allow for headgear, including hijabs.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who penned the Court's majority opinion, wrote that, "An applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need."
Abercrombie has come under fire before for its restrictive "look policy," which also controls rules on acceptable employee hair color and nail length. The retailer was previously forced to pay out $71,000 to two other Muslim women who filed discrimination cases against the retailer in September 2013. The company later changed its policy after the settlement to allow employees to wear hijabs at work.
A&F has faced numerous setbacks in recent years, including a reported loss in profits amid plunging sales and fizzling efforts to keep the brand hip to the youth market. Abercrombie's former CEO Michael Jeffries, who stepped down in December, also drew ire after he told Salon in 2006 that the company only catered to "cool, good-looking people" and avoided "fat people."
"Candidly, we go after the cool kids," Jeffries said. "A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."