Tallahassee Journal

Justices defend Muslim girl in employment dispute

Justices defend Muslim girl in employment dispute

Supreme Court justices who have been sympathetic to religious beliefs and customs sharply questioned a lawyer for Abercrombie & Fitch Wednesday over the clothier’s refusal to hire a headscarf-wearing Muslim girl. The hour-long oral argument exposed the retailer and its “look policy” for sales associates to harsh criticism from both liberal and conservative justices, who appeared to reject its contention that the girl was turned down for her black hijab, not her religion.635604665501209624-GTY-464373804

The focus of the case was 17-year-old Samantha Elauf’s 2008 job interview in Tulsa, Okla., during which a company official assumed she was wearing the headscarf for religious reasons — but did not ask. She was found to be qualified, but a supervisor later ordered that Elauf be turned down. Several justices said company officials clearly understood the headscarf was a religious garb and did not buy Abercrombie’s contention that it rejected Elauf because the “look policy” does not allow hats.

“Maybe she’s just having a bad hair day” during her job interview, when the policy does not yet apply, Justice Samuel Alito said. “The reason she was rejected is because you assumed she was going to do this every day.”

How the high court resolves the case could have implications both for the employment opportunities granted religious minorities and the hiring practices used by companies large and small. For those reasons, it has risen to become one of the court’s major cases this term. On the other hand, the circumstances involved in Elauf’s situation point to a narrower question: Must the job applicant request a religious accommodation, or should the employer recognize the need for it?