Monday, December 28, 2009
A retailer that required a female employee to wear clothing similar to its own brand was not entitled to summary judgment on the EEOC's claim that it violated Title VII's religious accommodation requirement. The employee alleged that the retailer's "look policy" consisted of clothing that was "sexy, form-fitting, and designed to show off body contours and draw attention to the wearer." The policy conflicted with her religious beliefs. She had recently converted to the Apostolic religion, and began to adhere to its regulations regarding dress. Unable to reach an accommodation over how to dress, the employee resigned and the EEOC filed suit on her behalf. The court held that the employer failed to show it would have suffered more than a de minimis hardship had it further accommodated the employee. While it was undisputed that, upon learning of the employee's alleged religious conflict, the retailer immediately engaged in an interactive process designed to understand and attempt to accommodate her religious beliefs, triable issues existed as to whether any of the retailer's proposed solutions (i.e., permitting the employee to wear jeans instead of skirts, wear short skirts with leggings underneath to cover her legs, or to look in other stores for skirts that would both meet her religious requirements and be consistent with the retailer's style) constituted reasonable accommodations. Accordingly, genuine issues remained as to whether the retailer's offers to compromise effectively eliminated the employee's religious conflict, sufficient to trigger her, "correlative duty to make a good faith attempt to satisfy her needs through means offered by the employer." The court also ruled that the EEOC was not entitled partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, finding that that the retailer raised triable issues as to the sincerity of the employee's religious beliefs after she appeared for her deposition wearing "clothing that was potentially inconsistent with her alleged faith" EEOC v Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc, ___F.3d___(E.D. Mo.October 26, 2009).
MItchell H. Rubinstein