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Religious Groups, Businesses Review Supreme Court's Headscarf Ruling

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The people who work in a clothing store often seem to exemplify the look that store is selling. Well, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that one retail chain went too far with that standard. The justices said Abercrombie & Fitch violated the nation's ban on religious discrimination by refusing to hire a Muslim teenager who wore a traditional headscarf known as a hijab. The decision was hailed by religious and civil liberties groups. The business community had a different reaction. Here's NPR's Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Seventeen-year-old Samantha Elauf applied for a job selling clothes at the Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa, Okla. She was highly rated and recommended for hiring. But the regional Abercrombie manager ordered the score downgraded because of Elauf's headscarf, and she was not hired. Samantha Elauf.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAMANTHA ELAUF: Observance of my faith should have not prevented me from getting a job.

TOTENBERG: The Supreme Court agreed by an 8-1 vote. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia called the case, easy in his announcement from the bench. Abercrombie was wrong in maintaining that it was up to the applicant to seek out a religious exception when she was interviewed. Under the federal law against religious discrimination, the rule is straightforward, he said. An employer may not make an applicant's religious practice a factor in employment decisions. The business community was disheartened. Karen Harned of the National Federation of Independent Business said small businesses in particular could find it difficult to implement the court's ruling.

KAREN HARNED: A lot of the employment laws that are out there, although they may seem, quote-unquote, "easy" to the person that's not actually in the trenches working with them every day, they are not for the small business owner, and they can get easily tripped up.

TOTENBERG: But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's General Counsel David Lopez replied that accommodations should be the norm unless the accommodation imposes an undue burden on the employer.

DAVID LOPEZ: So they would have to come in with evidence that it would actually impact its operations in a meaningful way.

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.