Supreme Court reverses decision in EEOC case

On Monday the Supreme Court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. Abercrombie & Fitch.

In the case which involves a woman’s claim that retailer Abercrombie & Fitch discriminated against her on religious grounds when it decided not to hire her, the eight justice majority (8-1) held in favor of the EEOC: "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."

Previous EEOC guidance has directed employers not to engage in stereotyping and required accommodation only when employees had asked for it.  NSBA had joined with leading state and local government organizations in filing an amicus brief January 29, 2015, asking the High Court to affirm the Tenth Circuit decision in the case, that an employer is not liable under federal law for failing to provide a religious accommodation to a prospective employee who did not ask for an accommodation. Justices were then faced with the question of who has the burden of raising the issue of a potential religious accommodation, the employer or the employee/job applicant. The brief had argued that if the Court placed the burden on employers, they would be forced to make assumptions or ask questions about an applicant’s religious practices—actions prohibited by other anti-discrimination laws.

In yesterday's decision the majority of the Justices concluded that "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."

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