5 Major Takeaways from Abercrombie’s Look Policy Suit

5 Major Takeaways from Abercrombie's Look Policy Suit

5 Major Takeaways from Abercrombie’s Look Policy Suit

Abercrombie & Fitch Inc., known for its low-rise jeans and tan, toned employees, may need to modify its Look Policy after the Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision.

Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, applied for a position at an Abercrombie store. Consistent with her religion, she wore a headscarf at her interview with the store’s assistant manager, Heather Cooke. Cooke gave Elauf “a rating that qualified her to be hired.”  However, Cooke raised concerns with her superiors about Elauf’s headscarf because the store had a Look Policy.

The company imposes a Look Policy that governs its employees’ dress. Specifically, the Look Policy prohibits “caps as too informal for Abercrombie’s desired image” according to Justice Scalia’s opinion.

Cooke sought guidance from the district manager, Randall Johnson, to clarify if the headscarf violated the “no cap policy.” Cooke informed Johnson that she believed Elauf wore her headscarf because of her faith. Johnston told Cooke that Elauf’s headscarf would violate the Look Policy as would all other headwear, religious or otherwise. Thus, Johnson directed Cooke not to hire Elauf.

On behalf of Elauf, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit claiming that Abercrombie’s refusal to hire Elauf violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits two categories of employment practices. It is unlawful for an employer:

  • to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or
  • to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin

Under Title VII, religion includes “all aspects of religious observances and practice, as well as belief.” In defense of its actions, an employer such as Abercrombie can demonstrate that it is unable to reasonably accommodate a religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.

Abercrombie’s Store Manager Training

According to the United States District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma:

Store managers are trained to “never to assume anything about anyone” in a job interview, and not to ask applicants about their religion.  If there are issues or questions regarding the Look Policy or an employee requests a religious accommodation, the store manager is instructed to contact Abercrombie’s Human Resources Department and/or their direct supervisor. The Human Resources managers have the individual discretion to grant accommodations “as long as it’s not going to distract from the brand.

5 Major Takeaways from EEOC v. Abercrombie

  1. To show disparate treatment, EEOC did not have to show that  Abercrombie had “actual knowledge” of the applicant’s need for religious accommodation.
  2. Religious practice is one of the protected characteristics that must be accommodated.
  3. The plaintiff need only to show that her need for an accommodation (i.e. wearing a headscarf despite the Look Policy) was a “motivating factor” in the employer’s decision not to hire her.
  4. An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.
  5. Title VII gives religious practices favored treatment to obligate employers from failing or refusing to hire or discharging any individual because of an individual’s religious observance and practice as well as belief.

Here, Abercrombie could have a no-headwear policy. However, when Elauf or any other applicants require an accommodation as an aspect of their religion, it is the responsibility of the employer to give way to the need for an accommodation.

Photo credit: Ad via Abercrombie’s Facebook 

What do you think of the Supreme Court’s decision? Will it give rise to other lawsuits in the fashion industry? Leave a comment below!

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