Job applicant wins in U.S Supreme Court

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An employer cannot refuse to hire someone to avoid making a religious accommodation — even if the employer did not actually know the accommodation was needed.

It is enough for the employer to suspect that the accommodation is needed — or for it to be a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held in E.E.O.C. v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores.

In this recent case, the U.S. Supreme Court held in favor of a Muslim woman who was denied employment by a children’s store owned by Abercrombie & Fitch in a Tulsa, Okla. mall.

The woman, Samantha Elauf, wore a black head scarf to the job interview, but she did not say why.

The court heard evidence that the store’s assistant manager believed that Elauf wore the head scarf for religious reasons. It was not necessary, Justice Anton Scalia wrote for the majority, for Elauf to have confirmed that fact — or for the assistant manager to know for certain.

“Instead, the intentional discrimination provision prohibits certain motives, regardless of the state of the actor’s knowledge,” Scalia wrote. “Motive and knowledge are separate concepts.”

The vote was 8 to 1, with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting.

This decision was a win for religious minorities and wronged job applicants and employees, who now do not have to make a specific request for a religious accommodation in order to obtain relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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