The Corner

Why We Should All Be Glad a Muslim Woman Just Won Her Religious Accommodation Case at the Supreme Court

While pop culture and corporate America haven’t been kind to religious freedom, the Supreme Court certainly has. In cases ranging from Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School v. EEOC, to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and Holt v. Hobbs, the Court has — sometimes unanimously — reaffirmed constitutional and statutory protections for religious freedom. Today’s opinion in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch continues the trend. 

In Abercrombie, the Court dealt with a claim by a Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf, that the store refused to hire her because she wore a hijab, a head covering that apparently violated the company’s so-called “Look Policy,” which banned “caps” but was interpreted in this case to ban the hijab. The store knew that Elauf wore the hijab because of her faith, yet declined to hire her specifically because they knew she’d try to wear the hijab at work. 

The EEOC sued Abercrombie, and the trial court ruled for Elauf and awarded her $20,000 in damages. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, however, holding that an employer cannot be liable for refusing to accommodate a religious practice until the applicant provides the employer with “actual knowledge” of the need for an accommodation. Justice Scalia, writing for an 8-1 majority, disagreed. What mattered was employer motive, not employer knowledge. To prevail, Scalia wrote, “an applicant need only show that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.”

This is the right result. The statute — Title VII — prohibits an employer from refusing to hire to an employee “because of” that employee’s religion. The statute, on its face, does not contain a knowledge requirement. Thus — as Scalia notes — if an employer makes an adverse job determination because they merely suspect that an employee may request an accommodation, it violates the statute: “An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.”

Elauf’s victory is a victory for people of all faiths (by the way, for a nation allegedly plagued with institutional Islamophobia, Muslim litigants certainly do well at the Supreme Court) and particularly critical at a time when major corporations are often leading the charge against religious free exercise. Title VII still means what it says, and people of faith cannot be shut out of the marketplace.

Most Popular

Culture

‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’

It was just one more segment to fill out the hour, and thereby fill the long 24 hours of Saturday’s cable news on November 2. Or so it seemed. Navy SEAL Mike Ritland was on the Fox News program Watters World to talk to Jesse Watters about trained German shepherds like the one used in the raid that found ... Read More
Film & TV

The Manly Appeal of Ford v Ferrari

There used to be a lot of overlap between what we think of as a Hollywood studio picture (designed to earn money) and an awards movie (designed to fill the trophy case, usually with an accompanying loss of money). Ford v Ferrari is a glorious throwback to the era when big stars did quality movies about actual ... Read More
White House

Impeachment and the Broken Truce

The contradiction at the center of American politics in Anno Domini 2019 is this: The ruling class does not rule. The impeachment dog-and-pony show in Washington this week is not about how Donald Trump has comported himself as president (grotesquely) any more than early convulsions were about refreshed ... Read More
Politics & Policy

ABC Chief Political Analyst: GOP Rep. Stefanik a ‘Perfect Example’ of the Failures of Electing Someone ‘Because They Are a Woman’

Matthew Dowd, chief political analyst for ABC News, suggested that Representative Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.) was elected due to her gender after taking issue with Stefanik's line of questioning during the first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday. “Elise Stefanik is a perfect example of why just electing ... Read More
U.S.

What Happened to California Republicans?

From 1967 to 2019, Republicans controlled the California governorship for 31 of 52 years. So why is there currently not a single statewide Republican officeholder? California also has a Democratic governor and Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. Only seven of California’s 53 ... Read More