A.G. Schneiderman Urges Supreme Court To Uphold Protections For Job Applicants From Religious Discrimination

Schneiderman: We Must Combat Religious Discrimination, Foster & Promote Tolerance

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric. T. Schneiderman issued the following statement today in advance of arguments before the United States Supreme Court in the matter of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie and Fitch Stores, Inc. In a brief amicus curiae filed with 8 other states, Attorney General Schneiderman urges the Court to recognize that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects job applicants and employees from discrimination on the basis of religion. 

“Our nation’s rich history of religious diversity is based on the Bill of Rights and enshrined by laws that protect New Yorkers’ right to freely practice their faith,”Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provides essential protection against employment discrimination on the basis of religion. As religious diversity across our country grows, these protections become even more important. I have asked the Court to recognize the ongoing necessity of protections for religious minorities in the workplace.”

Attorney General Schneiderman, along with eight other attorneys general, joined an amicus brief submitted by Arizona Attorney General Thomas C. Horne in the case of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie and Fitch, Inc. Other states that joined the brief include Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington.

In 2012, Attorney General Schneiderman launched the Religious Rights Initiative, which is dedicated to addressing religious discrimination claims and ensuring that anti-discrimination laws are aggressively enforced. The Initiative has been particularly focused on protecting the religious rights of employees in the workplace and ensuring compliance with federal and state laws that require that employers accommodate the sincere religious beliefs or practices of employees and job applicants unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the business.

In this case, the question before the court concerns whether Title VII’s protections are only invoked when a job applicant or employee explicitly informs an employer that his or her dress or grooming practice is religiously motivated, and formally requests that the employer provide an accommodation.

Specifically, a Muslim applicant for a stockroom position at an Abercrombie store in Tulsa, Oklahoma was denied employment on account of her hijab. Abercrombie concluded that such religious headwear would conflict with the store’s “look” policy. The Tenth Circuit ultimately decided in favor of Abercrombie on the grounds that the applicant had not explicitly informed Abercrombie of the potential conflict with the company’s policies, and that “employment applicants are not entitled to a religious accommodation unless they inform the employer that their religious beliefs conflict with the employer’s policies, regardless of whether they have knowledge of the employer’s policies.” 

The amicus brief argues that the inflexible Tenth Circuit standard is improper under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and that “where an employer has superior knowledge of a potential conflict between an applicant’s religious beliefs and its own undisclosed policies that will be used to screen an applicant during hiring, an employer should engage in an interactive dialogue with the applicant about whether a reasonable accommodation is possible.” The brief explains: “By not mentioning the possible conflict and then not hiring the applicant because of it, employers can affirmatively avoid their Title VII obligations to provide a religious accommodation.”

The brief is available here.

The New York State Attorney General’s Office is committed to combating discrimination on the basis of religion and promoting the religious rights of employees in the workplace. To file a complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau at Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov or 212-416-8250.