“Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins in Supreme Court” Review: Discriminatory Look Policy

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Summary of Newspaper Article

The article by Adam Liptak titled “Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins in Supreme Court” that was published in The New York Times on June 1, 2015, discusses a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch. The company was accused of employment discrimination by a woman whose job application was denied because of her wearing a traditional Islamic headwear. Justice Scalia asserts that the conflict arose when Samantha Elauf, was suspected of wearing a scarf for reasons related to her religion (Liptak par. 3). The decision not to hire the Muslim woman, in his opinion, was dictated by the company’s unwillingness to meet the needs of her religious practice. Abercrombie & Fitch contended that the scarf the woman wore clashed with their “Look Policy,” which required a “classic East Coast collegiate style” (Liptak par. 1).

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The court voted 8 to 1 to free Samantha Elauf from a request for accommodation to wear religious attire under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Liptak par. 4). Justice Scalia concluded that regardless of the motive “an employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.” Other religious minorities such as Jews and Sikhs approved the ruling, which would protect them from employers discriminating for the clothing worn in accordance with their religious traditions (Liptak par. 10).

The spokesperson for Abercrombie& Fitch reported that the company had introduced some changes to its dress code after 2008, and now workers are “granted numerous religious accommodations when requested, including hijabs” (Liptak par. 17). Nonetheless, the incident of the company taking an adverse action against Ms. Elauf made her experience unfair treatment and “disrespect” (Liptak par. 19). She was born in the United States and believed she was “the same as everyone else” (Liptak par. 19).

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. voted for reversal of the Abercrombie & Fitch’s appeal, however for a different reason than court’s majority. He maintained that if reasons for wearing a garb are not clearly shown to be religious then “an employer cannot be held liable for taking and adverse action because of an employee’s religious practice” (Liptak par. 21). The company also contended that it is an employee’s responsibility to make it clear for an employer that there is “religious motivation” behind their clothing choices (Liptak par. 21). However, in this case, there was a sufficient ground to believe that “Abercrombie knew that Elauf is a Muslim and that she wore the scarf for a religious reason” (Liptak par. 21).

According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there are several federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination in the private and public sector on the basis of gender, sex, national origin and age among other things (EEOC Laws Enforced by EEOC par. 1). Those include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. In addition, almost all states enacted laws and ordinances mirroring those issued at the federal level (EEOC Laws Enforced by EEOC par. 1).

The EEOC, an independent agency that enforces federal laws barring employment discrimination, sued Abercrombie & Fitch on Samantha Elauf’s behalf. According to court’s ruling, the decision of the company not to hire a job applicant was motivated by the unwillingness to accommodate a religious practice (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores 2). Justice Alito interpreted a provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that specifically forbids an employer to take any adverse employment action, such as discharge or refusal to hire, against “any individual… because of such individual’s…religion” (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores 1) He concluded that “Abercrombie rejected Elauf because she wore a headscarf” and that the company had an ample evidence “that Elauf is a Muslim and that she wore the scarf for a religious reason” (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores 2).

Proper Human Resources management should adapt such practices that would prevent occurrences of employment discrimination on religious grounds. All job requirements should not discriminate against any individual and must be the same for all job applicants. The same should apply to promotion, transfer, wages and all other aspects of employment. HR manager must ensure equal employment opportunities for both job applicants and existing workers.

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Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 employers are liable for a hostile environment; therefore necessary steps must be taken to guaranty employees from feeling threatened or humiliated because of their religion (EEOC Title VII par. 6). Anti-Defamation League defines hostile environment as one where “offensive conduct directed at an employee because of that employee’s religion, and where the conduct is so severe or pervasive that it affects the terms or conditions of employment” (Anti-Defamation League 5). Moreover, under the First Amendment employees may ask for accommodations of their religious observances and practices according to the free exercise clause (Anti-Defamation League 4). In addition, free speech clause may also serve a ground for a request for an accommodation of employee’s religious expression (Anti-Defamation League 4). To avoid liability, employers must have equality policy that would allow for such an expression as well as provide employees with a private space for their religious practices.

Prevention of Discrimination

According to EEOC “prevention is the best tool to eliminate harassment in the workplace” (EEOC Harassment 5). For employers to be able to prevent and correct harassment based on religion in the work environment, they must have a clear understanding of where such discrimination can arise. The wording of job advertisement must be carefully considered to avoid any references to religion or belief. Moreover, extra steps must be taken to underscore company’s commitment to equal opportunities. A clear indication of willingness to hire candidates from under-represented in the organization communities should be expressed. HR manager has to make sure that neither the job application form nor the advertisement for the vacancy is written in an inadvertently discriminatory language.

All rules, actions and policies of the company must be written with consideration of religious rules and practices of employees. Necessary changes to a dress code also have to be introduced to prevent discrimination against workers of particular beliefs. Regular awareness trainings and seminars should be conducted to eliminate possible hostile or discriminatory work environment and inculcate respect for cultural and social differences among staff (ACAS 6). When it is possible, employees must be provided with private spaces for the accommodation of their religious practices such as prayers or observances. Most importantly, organizations should have a clear organizational policy that would deal with any occurrences of discriminatory behavior or harassment among their workforce employing discipline and grievance procedures (ACAS 12).

Lodging Complaints

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 employers must guarantee their employees a work environment that is free from “discrimination on account of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (EEOC Title VII par. 6). Therefore, companies must have equality policies that would have clearly defined rules and practices for dealing with any occurrences of harassment among their workforce.

Employees must be encouraged to raise complaints via internal HR process that would gather, review and deal with all instances of workplace discrimination on religious and other grounds. All such occurrences must be immediately investigated by either trained employee relations specialist or a general management and have to be resolved in accordance with company’s discipline and grievance policies (Mayhew par. 4). HR representative responsible for processing complaints has to be mindful of a sensitive nature of discrimination or harassment on the basis of religion. Therefore, all employees issuing such a complaint are to be treated with utmost respect and compassion. Moreover, staff should be periodically encouraged to report every occurrence of hostile and prejudicial treatment regardless of how trivial they may appear. It is important to make clear to every worker that resolving a matter before it escalates might help a company to save money and objectively investigate the claim (Mayhew par. 6).

Employees can report complaints by a phone, by e-mail or file a complaint in HR representative’s office. Various methods for lodging a complaint must be available, so every employee will feel comfortable using one of them (Spiro par. 3). It is important to create an anonyms channel for reporting problems. All employees must be informed about third-party organizations that can provide them with an avenue to report harassment and remain their confidentiality. Such a method should be available because of the common fear of retaliation regardless of severe informational disadvantage that it might cause during investigation process (Spiro par. 4).

Monitoring

Monitoring policy in an organization may be used not only for tracking employees’ activities and measuring their productivity as well as the usage of the working time, but it can also help assess how the company meets the goals of the equality policy. Collection and detailed examination of data will help HR manager to keep track on the implementation of the action plan designed to support equality policy and to measure the results it produces for the organization (ACAS 17).

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All employees must be routinely provided with equality monitoring forms which should be later returned to a monitoring officer or HR representative responsible for taking and processing surveys. They have to be assured that all information will stay confidential and will not be disclosed to anyone except staff in the organization’s Human Resources department. Employees must also know that filling out of equality monitoring forms helps the company have a better view of the make-up of the workforce for the promotion of diversity and that it is voluntarily (ACAS 18).

A monitoring officer should also gather data on every stage of employment from the application for a job to an employee’s dismissal. It is important to assess information on the channels that were used for a selection of employees from diverse backgrounds. Furthermore, staff training and promotion processes must be analyzed to discern patterns of possible preferential treatment or discrimination. Other sources of data such as complaints and grievances also provide important insight into the treatment of the workforce (ACAS 18). All information must be analyzed to conduct an accurate equality impact assessment. A monitoring officer analyzing the data examines any significant difference in treatment of different categories of both employees and applicants to find a possible pattern of unfair treatment due to discriminatory reasons.

Relevance to this Course

The course gives insight into the management theory, structure and design of various businesses as well as employment relations in them. It also provides important information about human factors influencing the way organizations operate. An adverse action against Ms. Elauf and a subsequent lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch that have been discussed in the article by Adam Liptak titled “Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins in Supreme Court” that was published in The New York Times on June 1, 2015 are relevant to this course in the context of already discussed issue of employment discrimination. Proper Human Resources management should have adapted practices and approaches that would have saved Abercrombie & Fitch from an adverse action claim. While it is necessary to hire the most appropriate candidate for a position, a recruiting process must be designed in the manner that would prevent any occurrences of discrimination on all stages. Human Resource Manager has to ensure that applications are not declined on religious, like in Abercrombie & Fitch case, or other grounds during reviewing and selection, as well as, testing and screening processes.

The article addresses the application of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that demands an accommodation of religious beliefs and practices of employees except the cases were meeting those obligations would cause “undue hardship on the conduct of employer’s business” (EEOC Title VII 3). The law specifically prohibits discrimination or segregation based on employee’s “religious garb” or “grooming practices” (EEOC Title VII 3). Transferring an employee to a remote position where they would not have a contact with customers also illegal under Title VII (EEOC Title VII 3).

Conclusion

The article by Adam Liptak titled “Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins in Supreme Court” that was published in The New York Times on June 1, 2015, tells a story of a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch. Samantha Elauf, who applied for a position in a store owned by the company, was denied an application because of her wearing a black scarf— traditional Islamic headwear for women (Liptak par. 1). Justice Scalia asserted that decision not to hire her was dictated by the unwillingness of the employer to accommodate her religious practice (Liptak par. 3)

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids an employer from taking an adverse employment action against an employee for the reasons of individual’s religion or other discrimination motives (EEOC Title VII par. 3). Therefore, proper Human Resources management should include such practices that would prevent occurrences of employment discrimination on religious grounds. The same approach must apply not only to application process but also to promotion, transfer, wages and all other aspects of employment. Considering that the First Amendment guarantees employees accommodations of their religious observances and practices according to the free exercise clause, employers must have equality policy that would allow for such an expression (Anti-Defamation League 4).

To conclude, all rules, actions and policies of a company have to be written with consideration of religious rules and practices of employees. Necessary changes to a dress code also should be introduced to prevent discrimination against workers of particular beliefs. If it is possible, employees must be provided with private spaces for their religious observances.

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References

ACAS. Prevent Discrimination: Support Equality. n.d. Web.

Anti-Defamation League. Relifious Accomodation in the Workplace: Your Rights and Obligations. n.d. Web.

EEOC. Harassment. n.d. Web.

—. Laws Enforced by EEOC. n.d. Web.

—. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. n.d. Web.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, inc. 575 Supreme Court of the United States. 2015. Supreme Court Collection. Legal Information Inst., Cornell U. Law School, n.d. Web.

Liptak, Adam. Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins In Supreme Court. 2015. Web.

Mayhew, R. How to Deal With HR Issues of Discrimination. n.d. Web.

Spiro, J. How to Handle Employee Complaints. n.d. Web.

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BusinessEssay. (2022) '“Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins in Supreme Court” Review: Discriminatory Look Policy'. 5 August.

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BusinessEssay. 2022. "“Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins in Supreme Court” Review: Discriminatory Look Policy." August 5, 2022. https://business-essay.com/muslim-woman-denied-job-over-head-scarf-wins-in-supreme-court-review-discriminatory-look-policy/.

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BusinessEssay. "“Muslim Woman Denied Job Over Head Scarf Wins in Supreme Court” Review: Discriminatory Look Policy." August 5, 2022. https://business-essay.com/muslim-woman-denied-job-over-head-scarf-wins-in-supreme-court-review-discriminatory-look-policy/.