By Scott Gilbert and Teeka Harrison
Yesterday in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. the Supreme Court held that making employment decisions based on assumptions related to religion (or any other protected class for that matter) can trigger liability under Title VII. In an 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the EEOC and held that actual notice to the employer is not required to trigger a religious accommodation obligation under Title VII. Rather, the plaintiff need only show that his or her need for an accommodation (even if the employer “has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed) was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision not to hire.
Takeaways for Employers:
Ultimately, the Court's holding is not a surprise. Since its 1989 holding in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Court has made clear that decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions can get employers into trouble. In light of the Abercrombie holding, employers should ensure that its hiring managers understand not only religious discrimination is prohibited, but also that there may be an affirmative duty to adjust a facially neutral policy as an accommodation to the religious beliefs of an applicant or employee.
For a more in-depth analysis on the ruling, please click here.
Previous intelligence on the case:
Abercrombie & Fitch Drops "Look Policy"
Headscarf Heartache: Supreme Court Considers EEOC Case Against Abercrombie