Detroit Muslims applaud high court’s Abercrombie ruling

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SHAFAQNA – Religious minorities in metro Detroit cheered the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in favor of aMuslim woman wearing an Islamic headscarf who did not get hired after she showed up to a job interview with clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.

The justices said that employers generally have to accommodate job applicants and employees with religious needs if the employer at least has an idea that such accommodation is necessary. The headscarf, or hijab, violated the company’s strict dress code for employees who work in its retail stores.

Job applicant Samantha Elauf did not tell her interviewer she was Muslim. But Justice Antonin Scalia said for the court that Abercrombie “at least suspected” that Elauf wore a headscarf for religious reasons. “That is enough,” Scalia said in an opinion for seven justices.

The decision was welcome news in metro Detroit’s sizable Muslim-American and Sikh communities, and others who wear religious garb. Many Muslim women in cities like Dearborn wear an Islamic headscarf to work, and Sikh men often wear turbans and full beards.

“I was very pleased to hear the great news,” said Suehaila Amen, an Arab-American and Muslim advocate from Dearborn Heights who wears the Islamic headscarf, known as hijab. “It makes me proud, as a Muslim American professional, to know that the majority of the Supreme Court justices saw beyond the ‘looks policy’ of Abercrombie & Fitch and called their reasoning for not hiring her for what it was, discrimination.”

Amen said “this is a remarkable moment for all who have been discriminated against based on their religious practices, traditional clothing, etc, in order fit in to society’s standards of what the ‘norm’ should be.”

Balbir Singh, 24, of New Jersey, grew up in West Bloomfield and is returning to metro Detroit this summer to live. As with other Sikh men who keep their hair in turbans, he sometimes has faced discrimination.

At a talent show in middle school, he remembers someone yelling out: “Osama bin Laden” when he was on stage. He recalled that his dad and other Sikhs encountered bias in the workplace and during interviews.

In metro Detroit, some Sikh males have stopped wearing turbans out of fear of bias.

“It’s great to know that the Supreme Court said people should be judged by merit and not by physical appearance,” he said. “I’m comforted by that…It’s great to have that security,” especially as he looks for work in metro Detroit.

As operations manager for the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights group, Singh often hears stories of Sikhs being discriminated against at work.

Gurjot Kaur, senior staff attorney with the Sikh Coalition, said his group has pursued legal action against employers for refusing to hire people because they wear religious turbans.

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