Abercrombie settles 7-year-old, religious discrimination case: The cost?

After suffering a defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court in the high-profile religious discrimination case brought against it by former applicant Samantha Elauf, retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has decided to settle with Elauf. 

To end the case, which began in 2008 when the EEOC filed charges on Elauf’s behalf, Abercrombie has agreed to pay $25,670 in damages to Elauf as well as $18,983 in court costs.

According to a statement released by the EEOC, the damages figure is equal to what a jury awarded her in 2011, prior to an appeal by Abercrombie.

Conflict with ‘look policy’

This all started when Elauf applied for a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in her hometown of Tulsa, OK. Elauf wore a headscarf or hijab as part of her Muslim faith, and she was denied hire for failing to conform to the company’s “look policy,” which banned head coverings.

Elauf filed a charge with the EEOC, which then filed a religious discrimination suit against the company on her behalf.

But Abercrombie prevailed in appeals court by claiming it didn’t have to relax its “Look Policy” because Elauf never asked it to do so — or even mentioned her religion. Abercrombie argued that Elauf needed to provide explicit, verbal notice of a conflict between the policy and her religious practice.

The EEOC then asked the Supreme Court to hear its case, which it did.

The High Court’s verdict came down earlier this summer. In an 8-1 decision, the court ruled Elauf was not required to make a specific request for a religious accommodation.

The court majority said there was enough evidence to show that Abercrombie knew she wore the head scarf as part of her religious practice and refused to hire her to avoid having to accommodate her religious practice.

So the case was remanded back to the appeals court, which was asked to reexamine the case using the High Court’s thinking: If an employer has an idea that an individual would need a religious accommodation, the employer is obligated to explore whether it could reasonably grant such an accommodation.

But before the court could take second look at the case, Abercrombie settled.

In the agency’s statement, EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said:

“We were extremely pleased with the Supreme Court ruling in our favor, which has reinforced our longstanding efforts to enforce Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination. We are now even more pleased to have final resolution of this case and to have Ms. Elauf receive the monetary damages awarded to her by a jury in 2011.”

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