POSTED BY SABRIN QADI ON JULY 07, 2015 IN BLOG
On June 1, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 8-1 judgment, ruled in favor of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Samantha Elauf, a 17-year-old American Muslim woman who was denied employment at the popular retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because the headscarf she wore for religious purposes conflicted with the store’s “look policy.” Elauf was found to qualify for the position, but the interviewer expressed concern to her superiors that the Islamic attire violates the ban of “caps.” They ended up rejecting her for that reason. She then filed a civil rights complaint seeing both favorable and not-so-favorable decisions until the last judgment made by the Supreme Court.
This decision is a victory, and not only does it reinforce America’s commitment to religious freedom, but supports the civil liberties of Muslim women who face constant discrimination in the professional world for choosing to observe the headscarf. Elauf is not the only one to challenge the status quo. Since 9/11, Muslim women have been turning to the judicial system in order to ensure their constitutional right of religious freedom is being exercised in school, at work, and the public domain.
For instance, the Oklahoma Muskogee Public School District settled a civil rights case in 2004 involving a sixth-grade Muslim student, Nashala Hearn, who was unjustly suspended for eight days after refusing to remove her hijab. Nashala and her family sued, with thesupport of the U.S. Department of Justice, and the district modified its policies to guarantee future religious accommodations.
In 2013, Safia Abdallah filed a religious discrimination lawsuit through the EEOC after an Albuquerque hotel refused her request to wear the hijab at work. The hotel’s refusal violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits the dismissal of any employee because of religion or religious practices. The case was settled out of Court.
There is a diversity of voices from Elauf to Hearn to Abdallah that highlight the injustices of Muslim women and religious freedom; and research studies show these challenges are ongoing.
Carnegie Mellon conducted a research experiment on how the hiring behavior of U.S employers is affected by their online search information about job candidates found through social networks. What they discovered was that discrimination varies greatly against Americans who are evidently Muslim than their Christian counterparts on Facebook and LinkedIn. The profiles created for the study qualified all the candidates equally in education and skills, and differed in aspects such as religious affiliation, fluency in other languages, activities and interests, and profile picture.
Another study by the University of Hawaii found that Muslim women who wear the hijab encountered discrimination when seeking employment, and that “hijabis had lower expectations of receiving job offers than Muslim women who did not wear the hijab, and that Hijabis were more likely to be hired by organizations with high employee diversity.”
Elauf successfully proved to the country that Abercrombie & Fitch chose not to hire her because of the headscarf. An employer cannot make an applicant’s religious practice, apparent or otherwise, a factor in the hiring process. All in all, while we cannot pinpoint exactly what implications the Supreme Court’s ruling will have on religious minorities, what we do know is that this is one step forward in making stronger the agency and activism of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab in public life and still have their constitutional protection as Americans.
Sabrin Qadi is an intern with the Arab American Institute