Samantha Elauf, was 17 years old when she applied for a job at an Abercrombie Kids store in 2008. Elauf, who wears a hijab for religious reasons, asked a friend who worked for the company if her head scarf would be a problem. The friend assured her it wouldn’t affect the hiring process as long as her hijab wasn’t black, a color which Abercrombie does not allow its employees to wear at work. So Elauf wore her headscarf to the interview, where neither she nor her interviewer brought it up. Although Elauf scored high enough in her interview to be hired by the store, she wasn’t. When the assistant manager of the Tulsa mall store had asked higher-ups what the company policy was for hijabs, a supervisor said they did not meet Abercrombie’s “look” policy. The assistant manager was then told to lower Elauf’s “style” score because of the hijab, which in turn lowered her interview score enough that she no longer had enough points to be hired.
Elauf won a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2009, but the judgment was reversed by an appeals court. That court argued Elauf should have asked for religious exemption during her interview, as the Abercrombie supervisor claimed he did not know Elauf wore her head scarf for religious reasons. The case is now going to the Supreme Court, who will decide if Abercrombie should have been notified that it would have to make religious accommodations for Elauf, or if Elauf was right not to ask for any accommodations since she was not aware she would need them.
Employer Discrimination in 2014
It would be nice to think that Samantha Elauf’s experience is a rarity, but American job
candidates in 2014 are still being discriminated against for a variety of reasons. Even the fact that more states are now legalizing gay marriage has done nothing to damper the discrimination against gay people in the workplace. In the states of Indiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Virginia gay people can get legally married, but they can also be legally fired for being gay.
Public opinion is largely for granting rights for gay people, having hit 89% approval in 2008; a number so high that the consulting company who researched that figure has not asked the question again since. But public approval does not mean an end to discrimination. Just last month, an openly gay teenage employee of Taco John’s was forced by his manager to wear a nametag with an anti-gay slur written on it. The South Dakota teenager was afraid he would lose his job if he didn’t comply, but later quit after the humiliation. The boy is now being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in a discrimination suit against Taco John’s.
No Quick Fix
There are some acts in place to prevent workplace discrimination, but they are not enough to fight every act of prejudice. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act bars employers from discriminating against job candidates who are at least 40 years old, as long as the candidate can still fulfill the requirements of a job. But the law has loopholes which companies exploit. There is nothing in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act which can prevent a company from saving money by terminating an older person who makes a higher salary.
Last month California governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have prevented employers from screening jobless candidates from the hiring process. The governor was concerned that such a bill would cause more harm than good, as it might affect programs that help the unemployed find jobs. Unfortunately, now employers are still legally able to inquire as to an interviewee’s job status, and bar them from getting hired for being unemployed.
Then there are the laws that go ignored. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act did nothing to stop Heather Myers from being fired from Walmart for carrying around a water bottle. Her doctor had told her she was at risk for dehydration, but her manager still refused to make an exception. Myers was told she had to choose between her job and her health. She decided on her health, though it wasn’t exactly a “choice.” Pregnant women are routinely denied the most basic accommodations, like sitting on a stool while working at the cash register. And the prejudice doesn’t end with pregnancy. Mothers who do work equal to that of their childless peers are still considered lesser by their employers.
Although we are nearing the first quarter of the 21st Century, workplace discrimination is still a weighted issue. From their age to their religion to their sexuality, employees are routinely and unfairly evaluated by employers based on their personal lives. Hopefully the various lawsuits being fought every day will see laws enacted to prevent future hiring and firing decisions based on anything other than an applicant’s work skills.