Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, prohibits two categories of employment practices. 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. Title VII prevents discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or classification of employees or applicants for employment in any way which would tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect employment.
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. The Supreme Court reversed judgment.
In order for an unlawful practice claim to prosper, is it sufficient for a rejected job applicant to show only that need for religious accommodation was a motivating factor in employer's decision, not that employer had knowledge of that need?
It was not necessary to show that the employer had actual knowledge of the applicant's need for an accommodation in order to establish disparate treatment under 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Instead, it was only necessary to show that the applicant's need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision; -A claim based on failure to accommodate a religious practice did not have to be raised as a disparate impact claim rather than a disparate treatment claim, as religious practice was a protected characteristic that could not be accorded disparate treatment.