Supreme Court Rules AGAINST Abercrombie & Fitch for Refusing to Hire Employee to Avoid Accommodating a Religious Practice

June 11, 2015

What this decision means for people of all faiths in places of employment across America today . . .

In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, last week the United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of a Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf, who the retailer Abercrombie & Fitch failed to hire because of her hijab—a religious head scarf required for modesty purposes which she wore because of, and in adherence to, her religious beliefs.

Elauf had interviewed for a model position at an Abercrombie & Fitch retail store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After her initial interview, she would have been hired, but a district manager objected that Elauf wore a hijab.

The young woman filed a federal complaint due to Abercrombie & Fitch’s failure to hire her, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s initial decision for Elauf and instead ruled in Abercrombie & Fitch’s favor.


The Supreme Court reversed this judgment in its ruling and in its opinion, delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia, said that “The Tenth Circuit misinterpreted Title VII’s requirements in granting summary judgment.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that it is against the law for an employer:

“(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2(a).”

Additionally in the opinion, Justice Scalia noted that the Court disagreed with Abercrombie & Fitch’s argument “that an applicant cannot show disparate treatment without first showing that an employer had ‘actual knowledge’ of the applicant’s need for an accommodation.” Instead, Scalia explained, “an applicant need only show that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.”

Moreover, Justice Scalia importantly stated: “Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices—that they be treated no worse than other practices. Rather, it gives them favored treatment. . . .”


As hostility toward religion continues to grow across America, religious liberty in the workplace will continue to be a major area of emphasis for First Liberty Institute. People of faith are asking more questions than ever before concerning what kind of religious expression is allowed in their places of employment—and to what extent. And that’s why employees and employers must know they have rights and what is permissible.

Consider these important facts about faith in the workplace . . .

·      You cannot discriminate on the basis of religion.

This means religion cannot be used as a factor in hiring decisions, promotions, or treatment of employees.

·      You do not lose your religious liberty rights by engaging in business.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case quashes the notion that Americans lose their religious rights by engaging in business. The case affirmed that all Americans—including business owners—have the rights to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of government compelling them to violate those beliefs. Perhaps most importantly, the Supreme Court ruled that courts are not permitted to question whether or not a religious belief is reasonable, meaning that your sincerely held religious beliefs are yours alone.

·      A business can be run on religious principles.

An employer does not discriminate on the basis of religion by affirming the faith of its owners in business objectives, and business owners are not required to abandon their faith when setting principles and ethics for their company. A business person of faith is free to run his or her business according to the ethics they have learned via religious instruction.

·      You may engage in religious speech in the workplace.

Employers can talk to employees about faith, so long as faith is not a requirement for continued employment or advancement within the company. Employers cannot, however, take adverse action against an employee for disagreeing with their religious views.

·      You may have prayer meetings and Bible studies in the workplace.

Employers are allowed to hold prayer meetings in the workplace, so long as attendance is not mandatory. Notices about these meetings should clearly say so, and the meetings are best held before or after work, or during breaks.

·      You may have employee training based on Biblical principles.

Employers are allowed to use training programs that are Biblically or faith-based. For example, an employer could require an employee to attend a management seminar that uses scriptural references as a part of its training. However, employees cannot be required to undergo religious training, participate in religious services or religious activities, or engage in behavior that would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

·      You may be headed for a collision between your religious freedom and the new cultural orthodoxy.

First Liberty Institute is currently representing several clients whose religious liberties have been compromised in workplace discrimination cases. Each of these cases points to a growing hostility toward employees’ religious rights in the workplace. Even though the law is on the side of religious liberty—as seen in the facts above and the Supreme Court’s ruling in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch—the rise of a “politically correct” corporate culture has made it necessary to have courageous people of faith willing to stand for their rights against discriminators, and expert lawyers ready to defend them. 


First Liberty Institute will continue fighting against injustices in the workplace—and others like them—and is currently taking strong legal action in the following religious discrimination cases:

·      Former college football and NFL star and sports broadcaster Craig James was recently terminated by FOX Sports from his on-air position because of his religious beliefs concerning marriage. James expressed these views outside of the workplace during a U.S. Senate debate prior to working for FOX Sports.

·      Former editor-in-chief of The Newton Daily News Bob Eschliman was terminated for comments made on his personal blog about Scripture and the institution of marriage.

·      Dr. Eric Walsh, former Pasadena Director of Public Health, was offered a job by the Georgia Department of Health that was quickly withdrawn when the State reviewed sermons Dr. Walsh made in his church.

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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit

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