Religion has been a hot topic at the Supreme Court recently. Last year, the Justices ruled that a town council could start its meetings with a prayer and also that a corporation owned by a devoutly religious family cannot be required to provide its female employees with health insurance that includes access to birth control that the employer equated with abortion. And earlier this year, it ruled that Arkansas cannot bar a Muslim inmate from growing the short beard that he believes his religion requires. The latest chapter on the role of religion in our daily lives comes tomorrow, when the Court hears oral arguments in the case of a Muslim woman whom the retail chain Abercrombie & Fitch declined to hire because she wore a headscarf. Let’s talk about EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch in Plain English.
In 2008, Samantha Elauf applied for a job as a salesperson at an Abercrombie children’s store in Oklahoma. Abercrombie & Fitch employees have to follow a dress code known as a “Look Policy,” which applies not only to clothes and jewelry but also to facial hair and shoes. Among other things, the policy – which is intended to promote a “preppy” aesthetic – also prohibits caps and black clothing. Elauf, then seventeen, is a Muslim who has worn a headscarf since she was thirteen because she believes it is required by her faith. For her interview with an assistant store manager, Elauf wore jeans, a T-shirt, and a black headscarf. The interview went well, but Elauf didn’t get the job; when a friend who worked at the store asked about the store’s decision, the assistant manager indicated that Elauf hadn’t been hired because of her headscarf.