Stoel Rives Summer Associate Dexter Pearce co-authored this post.
In a case Justice Antonin Scalia described as “really easy,” the Supreme Court held that an employer can be liable for failing to accommodate a religious practice even if the employer lacks actual knowledge of a need for an accommodation. Writing for the 8-to-1 majority (Justice Thomas dissented), Scalia stressed that Title VII is concerned with motive, not knowledge. Thus, even if an employer has no more than an “unsubstantiated suspicion” of an applicant’s religious beliefs/practices, the employer violates Title VII if it’s action is motivated by a desire to avoid a potential accommodation.
Abercrombie employs a “Look Policy” that prohibits “caps.” Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, applied for a retail sales position. Elauf wore a headscarf to her interview, but neither the headscarf nor religion were discussed. Heather Cooke, the assistant store manager and interviewer, identified Elauf as qualified for the position, but asked her store manager and the district manager about Elauf’s headscarf, noting that she believed Elauf wore her headscarf because of her faith. The district manager told Cooke that the headscarf would violate the Look Policy and instructed her not to hire Elauf.
Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch: It’s All About the Motive