EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. (USA)

Samantha ElaufAbercrombie & Fitch refused to hire Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, because the headscarf that she wore pursuant to her religious obligations conflicted with Abercrombie’s employee dress policy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed suit on Elauf’s behalf, alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant because of the applicant’s religious practice when the practice could be accommodated without undue hardship. The EEOC prevailed in the District Court, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed, awarding Abercrombie summary judgment on the ground that failure-to-accommodate liability attaches only when the applicant provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and held that to prevail in a disparate-treatment claim, an applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need. Title VII’s disparate-treatment provision required Elauf to show that Abercrombie (1) “fail[ed] . . . to hire” her (2) “because of ” (3) “[her] religion” (including a religious practice). 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1). And its “because of” standard is understood to mean that the protected characteristic cannot be a “motivating factor” in an employment decision. §2000e–2(m). Thus, rather than imposing a knowledge standard, §2000e–2(a)(1) prohibits certain motives, regardless of the state of the actor’s knowledge: An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions. Title VII contains no knowledge requirement. Furthermore, Title VII’s definition of religion clearly indicates that failure-to-accommodate challenges can be brought as disparate-treatment claims.