When a Muslim woman sought employment at a Tulsa, Okla. Abercrombie & Fitch store in 2008, she showed up to her interview wearing a headscarf associated with her faith. The potential employer notified Samantha Elauf that her appearance violated the store’s policy and chose not to hire her.
As is the norm in today’s overly litigious culture, she pursued legal action against the company for perceived discrimination.While a federal judge ruled in favor of Elauf and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that decision was recently overturned by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Indicating that the applicant never sought specific consideration based on her religion, the court found in favor of the clothing chain.
Though this decision certainly appears to uphold an employer’s right to hire as it sees fit, the ruling is not exactly a free market victory. First of all, the case was forced to an appellate court after a judge initially ruled against Ambercrombie. In addition, the retailer has since changed its own policy regarding how employees are expected to dress. The Oklahoma case was just one of several similar suits against the company, which has recently settled with a number of litigants in California.
The simple fact remains that a company in an ostensibly free market should have the liberty to require its employees to dress in a certain way. This does not represent discrimination against a particular faith, but a desire to present a uniform look to clients.
It has become increasingly common for certain groups to view any disappointment as a personal attack and a sign of bigotry. Such immediate indignation stands in stark contrast to the spirit of individual freedom under which this nation was founded.
An applicant can be turned down for a job for countless reasons; and, absent any outright prejudice, the decision to hire or not should be left solely to the employer. Should Elauf decide to open a business requiring all employees to wear a hijab as part of their uniform, she should be given that opportunity. Unfortunately, she and the EEOC want to take that liberty away.
Persistent legal challenges, it seems, has prompted Abercrombie to relent and change its own dress code.
While discrimination involves different standards based on some physical characteristic, this retailer was treating all applicants with consistency. Had Elauf been allowed to violate the code based strictly on her religion, Abercrombie would have been necessarily discriminating against all other employees prohibited from wearing a head covering for any other reason.