June 2, 2015
Yesterday in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. the Supreme Court held that making employment decisions based on assumptions related to religion (or any other protected class for that matter) can trigger liability under Title VII.

In an 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the EEOC and held that actual notice to the employer is not required to trigger a religious accommodation obligation under Title VII. Rather, the plaintiff need only show that his or her need for an accommodation (even if the employer “has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed) was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision not to hire. The Court’s opinion makes clear that Title VII does not impose a knowledge requirement, and that “motive and knowledge are separate concepts.” The Court also drew a distinction between the language of Title VII and that of Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The ADA defines discrimination as an employer’s failure to make “reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations” of a potential employee. The Court found the lack of any similar knowledge requirement in Title VII to be significant, and refused to “add words to the law to produce what is thought to be a desirable result.”   

In relation to disparate-treatment claims based on a failure to accommodate a religious practice, the Court made clear that "an employer may not make an applicant's religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decision." Even though Abercrombie's policy on employee attire is a neutral policy, "Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation", thereby giving religious practices "favored treatment."

To view the full alert, click here.