On June 1, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch that, for an employee to successfully prove a religious discrimination case, that employee need only prove that his/her need for an accommodation was a “motivating factor” in the employe’s adverse employment decision. There is no requirement that the employee prove that the employer had knowledge of the employee’s need for an accommodation.
In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, an applicant appeared for an interview wearing a religious headscarf. Abercrombie & Fitch had a policy forbidding “caps” from being worn by employees. During the interview, the applicant did not mention her religion or her headscarf. Neither did she mention the need for any religious accommodation. Although the initial interviewer gave the applicant a score that was high enough for hiring, the interviewer noted her concern that the applicant’s headscarf might be a violation of the company’s “Look Policy.” The interviewer then sought the assistance of her supervisor, who made the ultimate decision not to hire the applicant.
The lower court ruled that the applicant was required to notify Abercrombie & Fitch of her need for a religious accommodation. Because she did not do that, the applicant’s lawsuit against the company was dismissed. But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, an employer cannot make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or not, a factor in employment decisions. The key issue is what motivated the employer to make the decision that it did, not what the employer knew or did not know about an employee’s or applicant’s religion or need for an accommodation. Accordingly, the applicant was allowed to proceed with her religious discrimination claim against Abercrombie & Fitch.
You can read the Supreme Court’s full decision here.