Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.,
575 U.S. ___ (2015)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Abercrombie refused to hire Elauf, a practicing Muslim, because the headscarf that she wore pursuant to her religious obligations conflicted with Abercrombie’s employee dress policy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit, alleging violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant because of the applicant’s religious practice when the practice could be accommodated without undue hardship. The EEOC prevailed in the district court. The Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that failure-to-accommodate liability attaches only when the applicant provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. Title VII’s disparate-treatment provision requires Elauf to show that Abercrombie “fail[ed] . . . to hire” her “because of ” “[her] religion” (including a religious practice), 42 U.S.C. 2000e–2(a)(1). Rather than imposing a knowledge standard, the statute prohibits certain motives, regardless of the state of the actor’s knowledge. An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions. Title VII allows failure-to-accommodate challenges to be brought as disparate-treatment claims and gives favored treatment to religious practices, rather than demanding that religious practices be treated no worse than other practices.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION v. ABERCROMBIE & FITCH STORES, INC.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

No. 14–86. Argued February 25, 2015—Decided June 1, 2015

Respondent (Abercrombie) refused to hire Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, because the headscarf that she wore pursuant to her religious obligations conflicted with Abercrombie’s employee dress policy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit on Elauf’s behalf, alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, inter alia, prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant because of the applicant’s religious practice when the practice could be accommodated without undue hardship. The EEOC prevailed in the District Court, but the Tenth Circuit reversed, awarding Abercrombie summary judgment on the ground that failure-to-accommodate liability attaches only when the applicant provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation.

Held: To prevail in a disparate-treatment claim, an applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need. Title VII’s disparate-treatment provision requires Elauf to show that Abercrombie (1) “fail[ed] . . . to hire” her (2) “because of” (3) “[her] religion” (including a religious practice). 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1). And its “because of” standard is understood to mean that the protected characteristic cannot be a “motivating factor” in an employment decision. §2000e–2(m). Thus, rather than imposing a knowledge standard, §2000e–2(a)(1) prohibits certain motives, regardless of the state of the actor’s knowledge: An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions. Title VII contains no knowledge requirement. Furthermore, Title VII’s definition of religion clearly indicates that failure-to-accommodate challenges can be brought as disparate-treatment claims. And Title VII gives favored treatment to religious practices, rather than demanding that religious practices be treated no worse than other practices. Pp. 2–7.

731 F. 3d 1106, reversed and remanded.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

Primary Holding

Title VII requires employers to give favored treatment to religious practices, rather than requiring that they be treated no worse than other practices, and it gives rise to a cause of action under a disparate treatment theory when an employer fails to accommodate a religious practice.

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