|Samantha and her mom in front of the Supreme Court, February 25, 2015. | (image source)|
"Respondent Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., operates several lines of clothing stores, each with its own “style.” Consistent with the image Abercrombie seeks to project for each store, the company imposes a Look Policy that governs its employees’ dress. The Look Policy prohibits "caps"—a term the Policy does not define—as too informal for Abercrombie’s desired image. Samantha Elauf is a practicing Muslim who, consistent with her understanding of her religion’s requirements, wears a headscarf. She applied for a position in an Abercrombie store, and was interviewed by Heather Cooke, the store’s assistant manager. Using Abercrombie’s ordinary system for evaluating applicants, Cooke gave Elauf a rating that qualified her to be hired; Cooke was concerned, however, that Elauf ’s headscarf would conflict with the store’s Look Policy. Cooke sought the store manager’s guidance to clarify whether the headscarf was a forbidden "cap." When this yielded no answer, Cooke turned to Randall Johnson, the district manager. Cooke informed Johnson that she believed Elauf wore her headscarf because of her faith. Johnson told Cooke that Elauf ’s headscarf would violate the Look Policy, as would all other headwear, religious or otherwise, and directed Cooke not to hire Elauf." - Court papers, June 1, 2015
The question at hand during the proceedings (see first 2011 post at TSOF; see 2014 details at TSOF on case and in moving to SCOTUS) of EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., at the Supreme Court of the United States was: "Whether an employer can be liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for refusing to hire an applicant or discharging an employee based on a 'religious observance and practice' only if the employer has actual knowledge that a religious accommodation was required and the employer's actual knowledge resulted from direct, explicit notice from the applicant or employee." In outcome, in a landslide 8-1 in favor of the EEOC, the inevitable ruling stated that an applicant need not prove that he/she made it clear that they needed religious accommodation...that it is sufficient enough to have evidence that he/she was not hired because the employer personally had at least an inclination that religious accommodation would be needed, or inclination pertaining to the individual's religion taken to be of an inconvenience, and chose, went on that, to not hire because of that.
During the oral arguments in February 2015, Shay Dvoretzky, acting as attorney for Abercrombie & Fitch in the case, brought into the defendant argument that inquiries on religious matters were something of personal ground. Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan then argued back, "You're essentially saying that the problem with the rule is that it requires Abercrombie to engage in what might be thought of as an awkward conversation, to ask some questions. You're saying we should structure the whole legal system to make sure there is no possibility of that awkward conversation ever taking place." And as Politico placed it as, "[...] Kagan [essentially] countered that not asking about them risked greater harm." And it's true. In any argument, of any matter in general. Everything in this world is essentially personal, inherently, naturally, and we don't ever get anywhere without bringing things up for fair conversation. Within that context, what Dvoretzky said was a dangerous thing.
"During oral arguments, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor [furthermore] pointed out that the case is unlike most employment discrimination cases in that the hiring manager at Abercrombie has openly admitted lowering Elauf’s score upon learning from another manager that the hijab violated company policy." - The Washington post
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito furthered, "Maybe she's just having a bad hair day, so she comes in with a headscarf, but she doesn't have any religious reason for doing it. Would you reject her for that? No. The reason she was rejected was because you assumed she was going to do this every day, and the only reason why … is because she had a religious reason."
It was a landslide, groundbreaking ruling.
Of some of the responses on the outcome have been, Well, if modesty is an aspect of this because her religion calls for it as a woman, then why was she applying at a store by Abercrombie & Fitch Co. in the first place - a company widely known for utilizing physical sensuality and sexuality in its marketing and retail practices. It was the Kids store, however (but even then, the photography by Bruce Weber for Kids, too, was not alien to showcasing the appropriately bare athleticism of youth). Cynicism out there puts out that perhaps she had an agenda. Regardless of whatever, the fundamental point of the matter is, as the Supreme Court has ruled, no employer - it doesn't matter which - should decline an individual on the basis of even having a private inclination of this applicant possibly being religious-observant; it doesn't matter if they directly told you or not, for if he or she has sufficient evidence that you did not hire them because you had an inclination they needed religious accommodation or would be inconvenient, you fucked up.
Naturally, this just brings about a landmark effect on hiring practices in the United States, and everyone knows it...and a subsequent explosion of arguments, in all manner of standings on the matter, on all sorts of tangents culturally, religiously, legally, politically, industry-wise, etc. I'm not going to venture into this because there is simply no room and time to get into a full on discourse on the diverse, strong implications, meanings of this. I'll just share some really good articles for you to read that tackle different aspects (see Supreme Court papers on the ruling) ('Abercrombie & Fitch' Ruling an Equal Employment Warning; A Muslim Woman Beat Abercrombie & Fitch. Why Her Supreme Court Victory is a Win for All Americans; Supreme Court Unleashes its Inner Libertarian; Supreme Court Rules Against Abercrombie in Hijab Case), and you can continue reading online finding more articles on the matter if you wish.
Personally, honestly, I am just glad this is finally over. As this first half of 2015 has been progressing, the only thing about moving on from the Mike Jeffries Era that I have been appreciating has been the full-on eradication of catalysts for explosive controversy and major legal lawsuits (and most often on all manner of nasty discriminatory grounds); it is like a pressure valve has finally been swung around full open at the Company. And now that it has come to a ruling decision, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., having proceeded to the highest court in the land, should finally be the last of continuous, unending, taxing, tiring high-scale controversy and legal battle involving Abercrombie & Fitch Co. It is done with, it is over with, and it is like the parting of dark gray clouds to finally reveal a future of bright, clear skies from this all. Sure, a company is always vulnerable to legal predicaments in general, but we should see nothing of the sort, such as we have seen, anymore. Of my nearing five years being at The Sitch on Fitch, writing on the controversies and legal suits has been of the most annoying of anything. and I am profoundly relieved and content that this is over with and done and that we are moving past this all!
And I do not stand alone. You'd think the loss of a lawsuit - and a major one at that - would further hurt a company, but I believe, instead. it just comes to show it to everyone as the final resounding death knell to such an affair, at that scale, to ever occur at Abercrombie & Fitch - with the ruling now happening, over a case stemming from the Mike Jeffries Era, after highly-publicized moves this year hitherto to profoundly reform Abercrombie & Fitch positively for the future (as aforementioned, eradicating all catalysts to ever bring about something as such again). Stock for ANF on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) made an impressive near-two point jump after the ruling made headlines.
And you know what else, I am proud of her. I am so proud of her. Because this isn't about, Oh why if she was going against Abercrombie & Fitch and A&F lost. No. This is about the fact this is young woman was not hired because of a benign aspect of her being - of who she is - and it doesn't matter if you think she had an agenda or not for the facts are as they stand regardless. And she stood up for herself and, in effect, for others who have and would have gone through a similar circumstance otherwise. She is a young individual who stood up for herself all the way (and, in her case, against a multi-billion dollar corporation with a good set of lawyers) and that serves as example for everyone else out there. You shouldn't feel intimidated, small, in the wrong, "oh well": if you have strong ethical evidence you were wronged, don't let it pass by regardless of who you are and against who it is with. She made a difference, she made history.
We need to continue working together to break down barriers, ignorance so as to continue to co-exist ever more positively, whether in the workplace or as a greater collective global whole, alongside one another together iridescently diverse, though one, in moving forward and assuring the continuity of positivity in progress for the benefit of us all.
And this isn't a negative for Abercrombie & Fitch either. It is a positive for Abercrombie & Fitch; it is a win for Abercrombie & Fitch, as well, because it is the major slamdown shut on a once self-persistent, unending chapter of explosive controversy and lawsuit we didn't even have to be going through to begin with... It is done!