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Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins in Supreme Court

Depressed female in hijab looking sadly in camera, feeling hurt, abused woman

The Supreme Court on Monday revived an employment discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch, which had refused to hire a Muslim woman because she wore a head scarf. The company said the scarf clashed with its dress code, which called for a “classic East Coast collegiate style.”

“This is really easy,” Justice Antonin Scalia said in announcing the decision from the bench. The company, he said, at least suspected that the applicant, Samantha Elauf, wore the head scarf for religious reasons. The company’s decision not to hire her, Justice Scalia said, was motivated by a desire to avoid accommodating her religious practice. That was enough.

Ms. Elauf had been awarded $20,000 by a jury, but the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, overturned the award, saying the trial judge should have dismissed the case before trial. “Ms. Elauf never informed Abercrombie before its hiring decision that she wore her head scarf, or ‘hijab,’ for religious reasons,”

But Justice Scalia, writing for seven justices, said Ms. Elauf did not have to make a specific request for a religious accommodation to obtain relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination in hiring. “Title VII forbids adverse employment decisions made with a forbidden motive,” Justice Scalia said from the bench, “whether this motive derives from actual knowledge, a well-founded suspicion or merely a hunch.”

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