Oklahoma’s embattled Muslim community got some good news Thursday.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear the case of a Muslim teenager who was denied a job six years ago at a Tulsa Abercrombie & Fitch store because her religiously mandated head covering did not comply with the store’s dress code.
Samantha Elauf, then 17, applied for a job at the Woodland Hills Mall store in June 2008.
At that time, Abercrombie sales people, called models, were required to dress in styles similar to clothing sold in the store, and to not wear hats or black clothing. The chain has since changed some of its dress policy.
Elauf wore a black hijab to the interview with an assistant manager. The subject of religion did not come up. That manager was going to offer her a job but was overruled by a district manager.
Elauf contacted the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which helped her file a religious discrimination suit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Employers are required by federal law to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of their employees if they can do so without suffering undue hardship.
In 2011, a federal jury awarded Elauf $20,000 in compensatory damages, but no punitive damages. At that trial, she testified that she felt insulted and disrespected when she learned she was not hired because of the scarf. In 2013, a federal appeals court ruled against Elauf because she did not explicitly tell the store she needed a religious exemption from the dress code.
The EEOC appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which announced this week it will hear the case early next year.
Elauf has been advised by attorneys not to talk to reporters about the case, according to Allison Moore, executive director of Surayya Anne Foundation, a Muslim faith-based nonprofit in Tulsa.
Mark A. Knueve, attorney for Abercrombie, also would not comment on the case.
Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR-Oklahoma, who has been dealing all week with backlash from an anti-Muslim campaign by state Rep. John Bennett and a beheading in Moore by a self-avowed Muslim, said he was pleased that the Supreme Court will review the appeals court ruling.
“We are disappointed in the decision made by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that places the burden upon the individual to request a religious accommodation as a part of the interview process,” he said in a statement.
“In Oklahoma we have seen an unfortunate history where the Islamic headscarf (hijab), a symbol of the Muslim faith worn by women, has been used to discriminate against Muslim women,” he said.
“In 2004, the U.S. Justice Department had to come to the support of an 11-year-old Muslim girl in Muskogee, (who) had to fight for her right to wear her religious headscarf in school.
“We have had two major cases where we came to the defense of Oklahoma Muslim women (who) were denied to take their driver’s license photo while wearing their hijab.
“And most recently, we advocated on behalf of a Tulsa woman who was denied entry into Valley National Bank because she chose to wear the hijab,” he said.
The EEOC received 3,700 complaints of religious discrimination last year, more than double the number filed 15 years ago.
The Supreme Court also will consider whether a Muslim inmate in Arkansas has a religious right to grow a beard.