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By Steve Shapiro
The Supreme Court’s busy month is underway, with major rulings expected on same-sex marriage, lethal injection and the Affordable Care Act. The justices have already stated their opinions in a case involving Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman from Oklahoma who was denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store in 2008 after wearing a hijab during her interview. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took on her case and sued, and on Monday, the Supreme Court sided with her by a vote of 8 to 1.
In an exclusive interview, Elauf and EEOC general counsel David Lopez spoke to Yahoo global news anchor Katie Couric about the court’s ruling.
“I’ve received a lot of positive feedback, a lot of encouraging words saying I was a role model,” Elauf said.
Elauf said her 2008 interview with an Abercrombie & Fitch assistant store manager went well. She said she was told that the next time she’d hear from the company was when it was time to report for orientation. That never happened. And when she asked a friend who worked at the store to find out why she hadn’t been hired, the friend told her she had learned that it was because of Elauf’s hijab.
The case turned on whether Elauf, who was 17 at the time, was required to ask Abercrombie & Fitch for a religious accommodation to wear her headscarf.
The EEOC argued that a specific request was not necessary. “The company had sufficient basis to understand that Samantha needed an accommodation for her religious beliefs,” Lopez told Couric.
Abercrombie argued that Elauf’s hijab violated the company’s “look policy,” which banned employees from wearing caps, and said she didn’t specifically ask for an accommodation during the interview.
The company, which has since done away with that policy, issued a statement following the decision that read:
“While the Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit decision, it did not determine that A&F discriminated against Ms. Elauf. We will determine our next steps in the litigation, which the Supreme Court remanded for further consideration. A&F remains focused on ensuring the company has an open-minded and tolerant workplace environment for all current and future store associates. We have made significant enhancements to our store associate policies, including the replacement of the 'look policy' with a new dress code that allows associates to be more individualistic; changed our hiring practices to not consider attractiveness; and changed store associates' titles from 'Model' to 'Brand Representative' to align with their new customer focus. This case relates to events occurring in 2008. A&F has a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and consistent with the law, has granted numerous religious accommodations when requested, including hijabs.”
Elauf said this is the only time she has felt discriminated against by an employer. She currently works for Urban Outfitters and hopes to continue a career in the fashion industry. She said the experience has taught her a very simple lesson: “Stand up for yourself. Stand up for what you believe in.”