I’m the type of person who reads the ends of books first (which drives my book club friends crazy). I always want to know how things turn out, which can be a little frustrating in my area of practice. I provide advice and counsel to clients on how to deal with sticky employment situations, but I don’t always hear what happens afterwards. ( I assume things go as planned, since my clients don’t have to ask for further advice, but who knows?)
I also wonder what happens in important and interesting cases after an appeals court weighs in and reverses a lower court. In those cases, the matter is sent back to the lower courts for further proceedings consistent with the appellate court decision, but you don’t always hear what actually happens there. One such recent important and interesting case was EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch , in which the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. In this case, the applicant for employment did not state that her headscarf was worn for religious reasons, but the company believed that it was and it chose not to hire her because she did not fit its East Coast Preppy “Look” policy.
The 10th Circuit had held that an employer must have actual knowledge of an individual’s religious need in order to be liable for failing to accommodate that need under Title VII. The Supreme Court reversed the 10th Circuit, however, and held that if an employer refuses to hire an individual based on its belief that she will require a religious accommodation, and she actually would need one if hired, Title VII is violated. Proof of actual knowledge is not required.
So, for those of you, like me, who wondered what happened after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a press release, announcing that Abercrombie & Fitch had settled the case by paying $25,670 in damages to the applicant (who apparently now works at Urban Outfitters) and $18,983 in court costs.
Although it wasn’t included in the press release, I’m sure that Abercrombie & Fitch is also reworking its interview and hiring policies, and training its managers, with regard to possible religious dress accommodations – a step that other employers should also consider. If an applicant dresses in a manner that is not compliant with the company’s dress code, it may be wise for the employer to explain the dress code and ask if the applicant can comply with it – this would likely trigger the applicant to explain any religious dress needs, enabling the employer to engage in the obligatory reasonable accommodation interactive discussion. In fact, employers may wish to make this a generally applicable question to all applicants, so as to not target individuals based on a “perceived” religious dress requirement.
And they all lived happily ever after. The end.