by ISAAC WEINER
Originally published: June 7, 2017
In March, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) generated controversy (and confusion) when it ruled that a workplace ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf did not necessarily constitute direct discrimination. Employers could not single out Muslim employees, the ECJ found, but they could enforce general policies restricting religious dress so long as they applied equally to all.
This issue has played out differently in the US In a 2015 decision, for example, the US Supreme Court found that the retail clothing company, Abercrombie & Fitch, had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by refusing to hire a female applicant who wore a headscarf. The store’s managers were concerned about having to accommodate her under a company policy that prohibited all employees from wearing “caps” in the workplace. But, the Court explained, it was not enough for all workers to be treated in the same way, for Title VII did not demand “mere neutrality.” Instead, it promised religion “favored treatment” by prohibiting employers from refusing to hire an individual “because of such individual’s religious observance and practice.’” By taking this applicant’s prospective need for a religious accommodation into account, Abercrombie had run afoul of US law.