Meet the woman who took Abercrombie & Fitch to court and won
In 2008, then 17-year-old Samantha Elauf interviewed for a sales position at Abercrombie Kids at her local mall in Tulsa, OK. Elauf, a Muslim woman, wore a head scarf to the interview, and was allegedly denied the job because her hijab “clashed” with the employer’s dress code of “classic East Coast collegiate style,” the New York Times reports. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company for religious discrimination on Elauf’s behalf, and Abercrombie countered that it had no way of knowing that the head scarf was a part of her faith, and therefore should not be considered at fault.
But the court disagreed. “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,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Elauf in what was a landmark employment discrimination case — a major win that could help pave the way for how we treat religious attire (among other issues) in the workplace in the future.
“At its root, this case is about defending the quintessentially American principles of religious freedom and tolerance,” David Lopez, general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said in a statement.”This decision is a victory for our increasingly diverse society and we applaud Samantha Elauf’s courage and tenacity in pursuing this matter.”
What’s remarkable is that Elauf, now 24, turned a job interview she had in her teens into a landmark case for religious freedom, garnering support from a wide range of activists groups.
Over the past eight years, the Palestinian-American Elauf stayed true to her beliefs and continued to pursue a career in fashion. She now works as a store merchandising manager at Urban Outfitters and keeps a regularly updated fashion blog chronicling her looks throughout the week. The Oklahoma State University grad has also remained outspoken about the fact that a woman who wears a head scarf can still be just as fashionable as anyone else.
“Hijab is a symbol of modesty and respect, but that doesn’t mean that as Muslim girls we can’t speak with the way we style our hijabs into our daily outfits,” she told Aslan Media. “It’s important to let people understand that even though you wear hijab, it doesn’t mean you are that much different from the average American girl.”
Elauf even took to Instagram yesterday to thank everyone for their support in following her case, and to remind us just how important it is to stand up for ourselves — a message we can all benefit from hearing.
Although Elauf’s win was a major victory that brought light to localized discrimination happening nationwide, her case isn’t over yet. Originally, Elauf was rewarded $20,000 in reparations by a jury, but the case was later overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Yesterday’s decision reversed this appeal, and the Supreme Court has since sent the case to a lower court for further consideration. Abercrombie released a statement in response, acknowledging that they are working on next steps for the litigation and affirming their support of all potential employees.
The final verdict on reparations is expected later this month. In the meantime, Elauf is celebrating her hard-earned victory.