Abercrombie & Fitch Religious Accommodation Suit

EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Dkt. No. 14-86 (U.S. June 1, 2015).

Facts:  Abercrombie & Fitch refused to hire a Muslim woman because her headscarf violated the store’s dress policy.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took up her case and sued the store.  The EEOC initially prevailed, but the decision was reversed on appeal because the EEOC failed to show that the store had “actual knowledge” of the woman’s need to wear the headscarf for religious reasons.  The issue before the Supreme Court was whether an employer must have actual knowledge resulting from explicit notice from the applicant or employee of their need for a religious accommodation.

Holding:  By 8-1, the Supreme Court concluded that actual knowledge of a person’s need for an accommodation is not required to establish a Title VII claim for the failure to accommodate a religious practice.  Among other things, Title VII 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.  To prevail under Title VII, an applicant need only show that the need for an accommodation was a “motivating factor” in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had actual knowledge of the need for a religious accommodation.  Title VII does not contain a knowledge requirement. Thus, the woman had to show that the store failed to hire her “because of” her religion or religious practice.  The Court reversed the appellate court decision in favor of the store.


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