The plaintiff was denied a job at the chain in 2008 because her hijab did not fit the company's aesthetic
Credit: Reuters/Landov

Samantha Elauf, who was denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in 2008 because she wore a headscarf, triumphed over the clothing chain on Monday when the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, saying that the decision not to hire her was motivated by a reluctance to accommodate Elauf’s Muslim religious practices.

“I was a teenager who loved fashion and was eager to work for Abercrombie & Fitch,” said the Tulsa, Oklahoma, woman in a statement. “Observance of my faith should not have prevented me from getting a job. I am glad that I stood up for my rights, and happy that the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] was there for me and took my complaint to the courts.”

The Supreme Court Justices ruled nearly unanimously in Elauf’s favor – 8-1, with only Clarence Thomas dissenting. Antonin Scalia declared that the case was “easy,” according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Elauf was 17 when she applied for the job. She later learned that her headscarf violated the company’s “look policy,” which regulates how employees should present themselves. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the chain, and a jury eventually awarded her $20,000 in damages. But in 2014, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it wasn’t the chain’s fault because Elauf had never asked for an exemption based on religious principles.

In ruling against Abercombie & Fitch, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court. The ruling explains the Justices’ logic in how the company’s decision not to hire Elauf violated Title VII, the subchapter of the Civil Rights Act concerning employment.

“Suppose that an employer thinks (though he does not know for certain) that a job applicant may be an orthodox Jew who will observe the Sabbath, and thus be unable to work on Saturdays,” the ruling reads. “If the applicant actually requires an accommodation of that religious practice, and the employer s desire to avoid the prospective accommodation is a motivating factor in his decision, the employer violates Title VII.”

The New York Times quoted Abercrombie & Fitch spokesperson Carlene Benz as saying that the company altered its dress code since 2008, and said the company grants religious exemptions when requested.