Popular clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is slated to go before the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve allegations of religious discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission initiated the suit on behalf of a teenage Muslim girl who claims she was denied consideration for employment because she wears a religious headscarf known as a hijab.
Store policy at the time of the events in question prohibited employees from wearing hats, but the girl was told by a friend who worked in the store that she would not be barred from wearing the religious head covering. However, after the girl wore a hijab to her interview, she was not hired because a store supervisor determined that her head scarf did not comply with the store’s clothing policy.
The specific controversy at issue in the case is whether or not the girl was required to request a religious exemption to the store’s policy at the time of the interview. The company claims that the manager did not have “actual knowledge” that the girl was wearing the scarf for religious purposes and thus argues that its decision not to hire her was not discriminatory.
Meanwhile, the EEOC contends that this interpretation of the law would allow employers to discriminate against employees or applicants on the basis of perceived religious practices as long as they do not make explicit statements about religion. The outcome of the suit could affect the rights of employees throughout the nation to be protected from acts of religious discrimination in the workplace.
Religious discrimination in the Minnesota workplace
Employers in Minnesota are prohibited from engaging in religious discrimination by both the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) and Title VII of the U.S. Constitution.
The MHRA bars employers from treating employees or applicants differently from one another on the basis of religion for purposes of hiring, firing, or any conditions or privileges of employment. Title VII contains similar prohibitions on religion-based discrimination or harassment in the workplace and also imposes a duty on employers to provide reasonable accommodations of a worker’s religious practices or beliefs. This means that employers can be required to make adjustments to the work environment or employment policies to enable the worker to practice his or her religion, as long as the resulting burden on the employer is minimal.
Examples of religious accommodations in the workplace include exceptions to dress codes and other workplace policies, adjustments to work schedules, hours or break times, and modification of job duties. Minnesota employees who have experienced religious-based discrimination or harassment at work are encouraged to discuss the situation with an employment lawyer to learn about the legal options that may be available to help protect their rights and correct the problem.