Two recent court cases have made it easier for employees to bring lawsuits claiming that they were discriminated against because of their religion.
In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a 17-year-old Muslim in Oklahoma could sue the Abercrombie & Fitch clothing chain for denying her a job because she wore a headscarf for religious reasons.
Samantha Elauf claimed she was rejected for a sales job at a store in Tulsa because her headscarf violated the chain’s dress code, which calls for an “East Coast preppy” image.
Abercrombie argued that she couldn’t prove she was discriminated against because the managers who interviewed her never asked her about the headscarf, and she never specifically told them that she was a Muslim and would need a religious accommodation to wear it while working.
But the Supreme Court said Samantha didn’t have to specifically request a religious accommodation during the interview. All she had to prove was that the Abercrombie managers assumed she might need a religious accommodation, and that this was a factor in their decision not to hire her.
In a different case in Michigan, a dark-skinned employee of Iraqi descent claimed he was harassed and unfairly disciplined by supervisors who incorrectly believed he was a Muslim.
Although he wasn’t, he claimed he was discriminated against anyway, with one manager telling him he wouldn’t be working on certain jobs because he was “Taliban.”
The company argued that he couldn’t sue for religious discrimination because he wasn’t discriminated against on the basis of his actual religion. But a federal court sided with the employee, and said discrimination could still occur even if the managers’ assumptions turned out to be incorrect.