RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Fashion collides with religion at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. On one side is the retailer Abercrombie and Fitch, on the other, a 17-year-old job applicant the retailer rated highly for hiring, but then she wasn't hired when she showed up for her interview wearing a Muslim headscarf. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Samantha Elauf applied for a job at an Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa, Okla. A Muslim, she'd worn the scarf since she was 13 years old, and she asked a friend who worked at the store whether she'd be allowed to wear the scarf as an employee. The friend consulted the assistant manager, who knew that some religious Jews had been permitted to wear yarmulkes and thus concluded the headscarf would not be a problem. Elauf applied, received a high score, and was recommended for hiring. But the regional Abercrombie manager ordered the score downgraded because of Elauf's headscarf and she was not hired. Abercrombie defends its actions, citing its so-called look policy. Elauf's dress for the interview - a T-shirt and jeans - fit in well with that policy, which is described as a classic East Coast collegiate style of clothing, but her headscarf did not. The look policy does not allow caps, terming them, quote, "too informal for the image we project." Abercrombie maintains that if Elauf wanted an exception to allow her to wear her headscarf, it was up to her to make the case for a religious exception at the time of her job interview. Elauf says she didn't know about the look policy, that she'd inquired about the headscarf and been told it would be OK, and that in any event, refusing to hire a highly rated applicant because of her religious practice violates the federal law banning religious discrimination in employment. That law bars discrimination based on religious practices unless an employer can show that an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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