Today the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed the right of job seekers to be free of discrimination in hiring. Declaring that “[a]n employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in [an] employment decision,” the Supreme Court rejected apparel chain Abercrombie & Fitch’s claim that it had the right to deny employment to an otherwise qualified Muslim applicant because she wore a hijab. In this case, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, Abercrombie & Fitch claimed that the head scarf violated its dress code.
The evidence of religious discrimination by Abercrombie & Fitch described in today’s decision, strongly parallels the evidence of racial discrimination by Abercrombie & Fitch which was uncovered by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) in 2003. In Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, LDF successfully sued Abercrombie & Fitch, securing a finding by the United States District Court in San Francisco that the apparel chain discriminated against African-American, Latino and Asian American applicants and employees, by discouraging their hiring and by placing employees of color in undesirable, non-public positions. Although LDF’s lawsuit resulted in the imposition of a consent decree that required Abercrombie & Fitch to hire a diversity executive and provide diversity training for all employees with hiring authority, today’s 8-1 ruling suggests that the clothing store had not fully embraced its legal obligation to provide for fair opportunities for employment, regardless of race or religion.
Statement from Sherrilyn Ifill President & Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF): “It is our hope that the Supreme Court’s ruling makes it crystal clear to all employers – and Abercrombie & Fitch in particular – that no applicant can be denied employment solely because of their religion. LDF once again urges Abercrombie & Fitch to base its hiring decisions on qualifications and merit, and not appearance. We recommend that Abercrombie & Fitch revisit the hiring practices outlined in the Gonzalez consent decree and reaffirm its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.