Sunday, December 15, 2013

Adventist Church sides with Muslim woman in workplace religious freedom case

Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch shut Elauf out of a job

(ANNThe Seventh-day Adventist Church yesterday filed an amicus, or “friend of the court” brief in support of an American Muslim woman who claims she was denied a job because her head-covering violated company policy.

In 2008, Samantha Elauf wore a hijab when she applied for a sales position at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States. After a manager confirmed that her headwear crossed store policy, she was deemed ineligible for hire without discussion of religious accommodation.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed a lawsuit on Elauf’s behalf, said the move defies Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The title obligates employers to take steps to “reasonably accommodate” a prospective employee’s “religious observance or practice.”

While a federal judge sided with the EEOC in 2011, a recent ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upends that decision, claiming Elauf never told Abercrombie she needed a religious accommodation, even though she was wearing a hijab in the interview.

And that, Adventist legal counselors say, places undue responsibility on the applicant to determine whether her religious beliefs or practices conflict with company policy.

“Placing the burden to inquire [about potential conflicts] upon the employer is not only the existing law, but makes sense because the employer is in the best position to know the work rules and anticipate a conflict,” the amicus brief states.

Dwayne Leslie, director for Legislative Affairs for the Adventist world church, said the 10th Circuit’s ruling sets a troubling precedent.

“Under the 10th Circuit’s new standard, employers would be able to insulate themselves from the duty to accommodate via willful ignorance [of the religious needs of employees],” Lesie wrote in a December 12 Huffington Post op-ed.

Religious clothing and the observance of Sabbath and other holy days are the most common areas of conflict in the workplace, church legal experts said. Hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and other head coverings frequently conflict with a company’s “look” policy, while Sabbath observance can clash with scheduling ... ► Read the full article by Elizabeth Lechleitner in ANN

Author: Elizabeth Lechleitner

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