Can We Wear A Hijab in The Work Place?
Can We Wear A Hijab in The Work Place? : A Muslim Woman Fights For This Right Against Abercrombie and Fitch.
On June 1st, a Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf won an employee discrimination lawsuit in the American Supreme Court 8-1 against Abercrombie and Fitch. Abercrombie and Fitch refused to hire her because she wore a headscarf that supposedly clashed with it’s “classic East Coast collegiate style” dress code, according to The New York Times.
Justice Antonin Scalia remarked that it was “an easy decision” for the bench of 9 Justices because the company knew about Elauf’s religious beliefs and merely disregarded Elauf’s wishes to wear a headscarf to “avoid accommodating these religious beliefs.” This action by Abercrombie and Fitch gave Elauf enough provision to sue them under a federal employment discrimination law.
Previously, United States Court of Supreme Appeals, located in Denver, overturned the $20,000 awarded to her by the Jury and dismissed the case under the idea that Elauf never informed Abercrombie and Fitch of her religious beliefs. However, the Supreme Court sent back the case to the appeals court for new and further consideration. The outcome was positive: Elauf won her case.
Through the Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Justices, specifically Justice Antonin Scalia, made a decision that Abercrombie and Fitch’s conclusion to not hire her due to her headscarf was highly prejudiced because it played a “vital factor” in her employment; something that Abercrombie and Fitch should have never done as this law states that employers can’t discriminate employees via religion.
However, whilst the American Supreme Court voted in favor of Elauf’s case, the same wouldn’t have happened if Samantha Elauf were living in a country that banned veils and scarves. A country like France.
Although France runs under the same secular system as America, it is far stricter, with regards to religion, than many other democratic secular countries. In March 2004, the French Parliament banned school staff from wearing any insignia or symbols of their religious practices. In April 2007, this ban extended to the public service domain of France.The state of religious practices in French private companies is unknown. However, the difference in treatment of headscarves between France and America questions the relevance of laws banning or supporting religious wear or beliefs.
Both nations contain large numbers of immigrants and citizens with belief systems that require the wear of certain symbols or insignia. France has 4.7 million Muslims: the second largest Muslim population in the whole of the European Union. As for America, 3.3 million Muslims have been estimated to reside in various states, according to Islam 101. Islam requires the wear of headscarves, also known as hijabs, to show respect towards its God as well as modesty; a crucial value of the Islamic religion. However, time and time again, Muslim women have come under fire in America and in France for their choice to uphold their religion.
Is it problematic to uphold one’s religion in one’s work place?
Whilst this is a highly controversial question, it should be noted that this question has a correct legal answer. If a Muslim woman working for the public sector in France wore a headscarf, it would be considered a breach of French law and her employers would have the opportunity to fire or demote her. This power given to the French public employer is entirely based on the French law.
Whereas, in America, the Title VII Civil Rights 1964 protects many Muslim women, like Samantha Elauf from getting fired for practicing their religious beliefs in their workplace. The American legal and justice systems, similar to the Australian Constitution, has promulgated laws that prevent employers from partaking in discriminative choices over religion.
Whilst some might feel that America may be protecting those who wear religious symbols better than France, it should be noted that it is the laws of each country that affects the outcome of each religious discrimination battle.
France may not allow women to wear religious clothing or symbols in the public domain or in schools. However, they do allow them to wear them anywhere else, including religious institutions. In contrast, America may implement strict laws protecting people wearing religious wear from getting fired. However, the state of religious discrimination in America hasn’t lessened. In February, two men at a grocery store in Michigan assaulted an Arab-American Muslim man. A witness, Kathy McMillan Bazzi, aged 60, said she could hear them taunting the Arab-American man with the phrases “ go back to your country”, “you’re ISIS” and “you’re a terrorist”, according to the Detroit Free Press.
This constant battle in society over the decision of several individuals’ wishes to wear their religious insignia or symbols highlights how the fight for the relevance of religious symbols in society is never, completely, over. A country may enact laws protecting individuals who wish to uphold their religious symbols in the workplace. However, a country can’t protect these individuals from other tactics done by different members of their society through a law. Protection can occur through education instead.
This is what the American Supreme Court has forgotten in its landmark decision. The law may protect some. However, the law has loopholes and provisions. Certain individuals are able to bend it for their own means. It is education that lasts forever and shapes the society’s perception in a more accepting manner.
Dakshayani is currently a freshman at NYU, majoring in French and Journalism, with minors in German and English Literature. Raised in Malaysia and Australia, Dakshayani enjoys exploring gender roles across various cultures and meeting people who are passionate about the arts. Her interests are predominantly artistic, linguistic or associated with animals: theatre review, French, German, scriptwriting, violin studies, dog shelter volunteering and writing.