__ U.S. __ (2015), 14-86, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.

Docket Nº14-86
Citation__ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2028, 192 L.Ed.2d 35, 83 U.S.L.W. 4373
Opinion JudgeSCALIA, JUSTICE
Party NameEQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PETITIONER v. ABERCROMBIE & FITCH STORES, INC
AttorneyIan H. Gershengorn argued the cause for petitioner. Shay Dvoretzky argued the cause for respondent.
Judge PanelSCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. JUSTICE ALITO, concurring in t...
Case DateJune 01, 2015
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page __

__ U.S. __ (2015)

135 S.Ct. 2028, 192 L.Ed.2d 35, 83 U.S.L.W. 4373, 25 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 300

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PETITIONER

v.

ABERCROMBIE & FITCH STORES, INC

No. 14-86

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 2015

[135 S.Ct. 2030] Argued February 25, 2015

Editorial Note:

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the printed official reporter.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

SYLLABUS

[192 L.Ed.2d 39] Respondent (Abercrombie) refused to hire Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, because the headscarf that she wore pursuant to her religious obligations conflicted with Abercrombie's employee dress policy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit on Elauf's behalf, alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, inter alia, prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant because of the applicant's religious practice when the practice could be accommodated without undue hardship. The EEOC prevailed in the District Court, but the Tenth Circuit reversed, awarding Abercrombie summary judgment on the ground that failure-to-accommodate liability attaches only when the applicant provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation.

Held :

To prevail in a disparate-treatment claim, an applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need. Title VII's disparate-treatment provision requires Elauf to show that Abercrombie (1) " fail[ed] . . . to hire" her (2) " because of" (3) " [her] religion" (including a religious practice). 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). And its " because of" standard is understood to mean that the protected characteristic cannot be a " motivating factor" in an employment decision. § 2000e-2(m). Thus, rather than imposing a knowledge standard, § 2000e-2(a)(1) prohibits certain motives, regardless of the state of the actor's knowledge: An employer may not make an applicant's religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions. Title VII contains no knowledge requirement. Furthermore, Title VII's definition of religion clearly indicates that failure-to-accommodate challenges can be brought as disparate-treatment claims. And Title VII gives favored treatment to religious practices, rather than demanding that religious practices be treated no worse than other practices. Pp. 2-7.

731 F.3d 1106, reversed and remanded.

Ian H. Gershengorn argued the cause for petitioner.

Shay Dvoretzky argued the cause for respondent.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

OPINION

[135 S.Ct. 2031] [192 L.Ed.2d 40] SCALIA, JUSTICE

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that it could accommodate without undue hardship. The question presented is whether this prohibition applies only where an applicant has informed the employer of his need for an accommodation.

I

We summarize the facts in the light most favorable to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), against whom the Tenth Circuit granted summary judgment. Respondent Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., operates several lines of clothing stores, each with its own " style." Consistent with the image Abercrombie seeks to project for each store, the company imposes a Look Policy that governs its employees' dress. The Look Policy prohibits " caps" --a term the Policy does not define--as too informal for Abercrombie's desired image.

Samantha Elauf is a practicing Muslim who, consistent with her understanding of her religion's requirements, wears a headscarf. She applied for a position in an Abercrombie store, and was interviewed by Heather Cooke, the store's assistant manager. Using Abercrombie's ordinary system for evaluating applicants, Cooke gave Elauf a rating that qualified her to be hired; Cooke was concerned, however, that Elauf's headscarf would conflict with the store's Look Policy.

Cooke sought the store manager's guidance to clarify whether the headscarf was a forbidden " cap." When this yielded no answer, Cooke turned to Randall Johnson, the district manager. Cooke informed Johnson that she believed Elauf wore her headscarf because of her faith. Johnson told Cooke that Elauf's headscarf would violate the Look Policy, as would all other headwear, religious or otherwise, and directed Cooke not to hire Elauf.

The EEOC sued Abercrombie on Elauf's behalf, claiming that its refusal to hire Elauf violated Title VII. The District Court granted the EEOC summary judgment on the issue of liability, 798 F.Supp.2d 1272 (ND Okla. 2011), held a trial on damages, and awarded $20,000. The Tenth Circuit reversed and awarded Abercrombie summary judgment. 731 F.3d 1106 (2013). It concluded that ordinarily an employer cannot be liable under Title VII for failing to accommodate a religious practice until the applicant (or employee) provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation. Id., at 1131. We granted certiorari. 573 U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 44, 189 L.Ed.2d 897 (2014).

II

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 78 Stat. 253, as amended, prohibits two categories of employment practices. It is unlawful for an employer:

" (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment [192 L.Ed.2d 41] [135 S.Ct. 2032] in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).

These two proscriptions, often referred to as the " disparate treatment" (or " intentional discrimination" ) provision and the " disparate impact" provision, are the only causes of action under Title VII. The word " religion" is defined to " includ[e] all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to" a " religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business." § 2000e(j). 1

Abercrombie's primary argument is that an applicant cannot show disparate treatment without first showing that an employer has " actual knowledge" of the applicant's need for an accommodation. We disagree. Instead, an applicant need only show that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision. 2

The disparate-treatment provision forbids employers to: (1) " fail . . . to hire" an applicant (2) " because of" (3) " such individual's . . . religion" (which includes his religious practice). Here, of course, Abercrombie (1) failed to hire Elauf. The parties concede that (if Elauf sincerely believes that her religion so requires) Elauf's wearing of a headscarf is (3) a " religious practice." All that remains is whether she was not hired (2) " because of" her religious practice.

The term " because of" appears frequently in antidiscrimination laws. It typically imports, at a minimum, the traditional standard of but-for causation. University of Tex. Southwestern Medical Center v . Nassar, 570 U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 186 L.Ed.2d 503 (2013). Title VII relaxes this standard, however, to prohibit even making a protected characteristic a " motivating factor" in an employment decision. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m). " Because of" in § 2000e-2(a)(1) links the forbidden consideration to each of the verbs preceding it; an individual's actual religious practice may not be a motivating factor in failing to hire, in refusing to hire, and so on.

It is significant that § 2000e-2(a)(1) does not impose a knowledge requirement. As Abercrombie acknowledges, some antidiscrimination [192 L.Ed.2d 42] statutes do. For example, [135 S.Ct. 2033] the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines discrimination to include an employer's failure to make " reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations" of an applicant. § 12112(b)(5)(A) (emphasis added). Title VII contains no such limitation.

Instead, the intentional discrimination provision prohibits certain motives, regardless of the state of the actor's knowledge. Motive and knowledge are separate concepts. An employer who has actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation does not violate Title VII by refusing to hire an applicant if avoiding that accommodation is not his motive. Conversely, an employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.

Thus, the rule for disparate-treatment claims based on a failure to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant's religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions. For example, suppose that an employer thinks (though he does not know for certain) that a job applicant may be an orthodox Jew who will observe the Sabbath, and thus be unable to work on Saturdays. If the applicant actually requires an accommodation of that religious practice, and the employer's desire to avoid the prospective accommodation is a motivating factor in his decision, the...

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197 practice notes
  • Equal Participation of Faith-Based Organizations in the Federal Agencies' Programs and Activities
    • United States
    • Agency For International Development,Education Department,Justice Department,Labor Department
    • Invalid date
    ...the nature of all things and about how one should live based on those beliefs. See, e.g., EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2028, 2033 (2015) (``Congress defined `religion,' for Title VII's purposes, as `includ[ing] all aspects of religious observance and practice, as......
  • Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 26, 2017
    • October 26, 2017
    .... . . differently, i.e., preferentially.'' U.S. Airways, 535 U.S. at 397; see also E.E.O.C. v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2028, 2034 (2015) (``Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices--that they may be treated no worse than other pra......
  • 968 F.3d 1286 (11th Cir. 2020), 18-13592, Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • August 7, 2020
    ...the judge elaborate unprovided-for exceptions to a text...."); EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. 768, 135 S.Ct. 2028, 2033, 192 L.Ed.2d 35 (2015) ("We construe [a statute's] silence as exactly that: Indeed, the majority turns Title IX ......
  • People v. Bell, 101515 CAAPP5, F064909
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • October 15, 2015
    ...words to the law to produce what is thought to be a desirable result.” (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. (2015) ___ U.S. ___ [135 S.Ct. 2028, 2033].) While it seems most sensible and efficient for a judge to determine the goading issue, there is simply no statutory basis for tre......
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151 cases
  • 968 F.3d 1286 (11th Cir. 2020), 18-13592, Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
    • August 7, 2020
    ...the judge elaborate unprovided-for exceptions to a text...."); EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. 768, 135 S.Ct. 2028, 2033, 192 L.Ed.2d 35 (2015) ("We construe [a statute's] silence as exactly that: Indeed, the majority turns Title IX ......
  • People v. Bell, 101515 CAAPP5, F064909
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • October 15, 2015
    ...words to the law to produce what is thought to be a desirable result.” (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. (2015) ___ U.S. ___ [135 S.Ct. 2028, 2033].) While it seems most sensible and efficient for a judge to determine the goading issue, there is simply no statutory basis for tre......
  • People v. Bell, 101515 CAAPP5, F064909M
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • October 15, 2015
    ...words to the law to produce what is thought to be a desirable result.” (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. (2015) ___ U.S. ___ [135 S.Ct. 2028, 2033].) While it seems most sensible and efficient for a judge to determine the goading issue, there is simply no statutory basis for tre......
  • 241 Cal.App.4th 315, F064909, People v. Bell
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • October 15, 2015
    ...words to the law to produce what is thought to be a desirable result.” (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. (2015) 575 U.S. ___ [192 L.Ed.2d 35, 135 S.Ct. 2028, 2033].) While it seems most sensible and efficient for a judge to determine the goading issue, there is simply no statuto......
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30 firm's commentaries
  • Annual Report on EEOC Developments – Fiscal Year 2015
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • January 13, 2016
    ...“enforcement tool of last resort.”10 1 EEOC v. Mach Mining, LLC, 135 S. Ct. 1645 (2015). 2 EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 2028 3 Young v. United Parcel Service, 135 S.Ct. 1338 (2015). 4 EEOC EnforcEmEnt GuidancE on PrEGnancy discrimination and rElatEd issuEs, No. 91......
  • Annual Report On EEOC Developments: Fiscal Year 2020
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • March 1, 2021
    ...prohibits employers from refusing to hire an individual based on religion. EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. 768, 135 S. Ct. 2028, 2031, 192 L. Ed. 2d 35 (2015). To establish a prima facie case of failure to hire, the EEOC must show that the allegedly aggrieved person: ......
  • California Employment Law Notes - July 2015
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • July 29, 2015
    ...FEHA). Muslim Applicant Can Proceed With Religious Discrimination Lawsuit EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2028 (2015) Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, wore a headscarf when she interviewed for a job with Abercrombie & Fitch. Although the headsc......
  • California Employment Law Notes (July 2015)
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • July 16, 2015
    ...FEHA). Muslim Applicant Can Proceed With Religious Discrimination Lawsuit EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2028 (2015) Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, wore a headscarf when she interviewed for a job with Abercrombie & Fitch. Although the headsc......
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11 books & journal articles
  • NARROWING THE TRAPDOOR OF THE GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE RIGHTS ACT.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 95 Nbr. 1, November 2019
    • November 1, 2019
    ...Meritor, 477 U.S. at 73 (establishing sexual harassment as actionable). (222) See EEOC v. Aberrrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.. 135 S. Ct. 2028, 2032 (2015) (holding that there is no "knowledge" requirement in a failure to accommodate claim). (223) See Fed. Express Corp. v. Holowe......
  • Request Denied: Retaliation Under Title VII for a Request for Religious Accommodation.
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    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 85 Nbr. 1, January 2020
    • January 1, 2020
    ...violation of the Establishment Clause it is not beyond accommodation in all cases). (49.) EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2028, 2033 (50.) Id. at 2032. (51.) U.S. Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391, 403 (2002). (52.) See id. at 391 (holding that an employer was ......
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    • Louisiana Law Review Nbr. 79-3, April 2019
    • April 1, 2019
    ...Energy, Inc., 860 F.3d at 136–38; Toledo, 892 F.2d at 1483; Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2028, 2034 (2015). 7. Davis v. Fort Bend Cty., 765 F.3d 480, 485 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Tagore v. United States, 735 F.3d 324, 329 (5th Cir. 2013))......
  • The religious difference: equal protection and the accommodation of (non)-religion.
    • United States
    • Washington University Law Review Vol. 94 Nbr. 1, December - December 2016
    • December 1, 2016
    ...is a religious or "purely personal" belief because it does not relate to "ultimate ideas"), rev'd on other grounds, 135 S. Ct. 2028(2015). (145.) The "leading substantive definition" of religion is "a system of communal beliefs and practices relative to su......
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2 provisions
  • Equal Participation of Faith-Based Organizations in the Federal Agencies' Programs and Activities
    • United States
    • Agency For International Development,Education Department,Justice Department,Labor Department
    • Invalid date
    ...the nature of all things and about how one should live based on those beliefs. See, e.g., EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2028, 2033 (2015) (``Congress defined `religion,' for Title VII's purposes, as `includ[ing] all aspects of religious observance and practice, as......
  • Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 26, 2017
    • October 26, 2017
    .... . . differently, i.e., preferentially.'' U.S. Airways, 535 U.S. at 397; see also E.E.O.C. v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2028, 2034 (2015) (``Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices--that they may be treated no worse than other pra......