Religious accommodation By Sharolyn Whiting-Ralston

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Originally published in The Journal Record - September 1, 2011.

In July, a young Tulsa woman, Samantha Elauf, received a $20,000 jury verdict against fashion giant Abercrombie & Fitch. The judge determined Elauf had been the victim of discrimination because Abercrombie failed to accommodate her religious beliefs.

Elauf is Muslim, and wears a head scarf known as a hijab. She applied for a position as a model, and wore the hijab to the interview. Elauf received high marks, but the store manager was unsure of what to do because of the hijab. Abercrombie requires its models to adhere to its “look policy,” which has many restrictions such as prohibiting heavy makeup and black clothing. It requires employees to dress in merchandise like that sold at Abercrombie stores. It prohibits employees from wearing “caps”; hence, Elauf’s hijab was prohibited by the policy, and she was not hired.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Abercrombie, asserting it failed to “accommodate” Elauf’s religion by refusing to hire her and allow her to wear her hijab. As the judge in Elauf’s case said, “Title VII imposes an obligation on the employer ‘to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless the employer demonstrates that accommodation would result in undue hardship on the conduct of its business.’” The requirement functions similarly to accommodations required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Article authored by McAfee & Taft Attorney: Sharolyn Whiting-Ralston.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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