Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that it could accommodate without undue hardship. The question presented is whether this prohibition applies only where an applicant has informed the employer of his need for an accommodation.
We summarize the facts in the light most favorable to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), against whom the Tenth Circuit granted summary judgment. Respondent Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., operates several lines of clothing stores, each with its own "style." Consistent with the image Abercrombie seeks to project for each store, the company imposes a Look Policy that governs its employees' dress. The Look Policy prohibits "caps"—a term the Policy does not define—as too informal for Abercrombie's desired image.
Samantha Elauf is a practicing Muslim who, consistent with her understanding of her religion's requirements, wears a headscarf. She applied for a position in an Abercrombie store, and was interviewed by Heather Cooke, the store's assistant manager. Using Abercrombie's ordinary system for evaluating applicants, Cooke gave Elauf a rating that qualified her to be hired; Cooke was concerned, however, that Elauf's headscarf would conflict with the store's Look Policy.
Cooke sought the store manager's guidance to clarify whether the headscarf was a forbidden "cap." When this yielded no answer, Cooke turned to Randall Johnson, the district manager. Cooke informed Johnson that she believed Elauf wore her headscarf because of her faith. Johnson told Cooke that Elauf's headscarf would violate the Look Policy, as would all other headwear, religious or otherwise, and directed Cooke not to hire Elauf.
The EEOC sued Abercrombie on Elauf's behalf, claiming that its refusal to hire Elauf violated Title VII. The District Court granted the EEOC summary judgment on the issue of liability, 798 F.Supp.2d 1272 (N.D.Okla.2011), held a trial on damages, and awarded $20,000. The Tenth Circuit reversed and awarded Abercrombie summary judgment. 731 F.3d 1106 (2013). It concluded that ordinarily an employer cannot be liable under Title VII for failing to accommodate a religious practice until the applicant (or employee) provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation. Id., at 1131. We granted certiorari. 573 U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 44, 189 L.Ed.2d 897 (2014).
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 78 Stat. 253, as amended, prohibits two categories of employment practices. It is unlawful for an employer:
These two proscriptions, often referred to as the "disparate treatment" (or "intentional discrimination") provision and the "disparate impact" provision, are the only causes of action under Title VII. The word "religion" is defined to "includ[e] all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to" a "religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business." § 2000e(j).
Abercrombie's primary argument is that an applicant cannot show disparate treatment without first showing that an employer has "actual knowledge" of the applicant's need for an accommodation. We disagree. Instead, an applicant need only show that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision.
The disparate-treatment provision forbids employers to: (1) "fail . . . to hire" an applicant (2) "because of" (3) "such individual's. . . religion" (which includes his religious practice). Here, of course, Abercrombie (1) failed to hire Elauf. The parties concede that (if Elauf sincerely believes that her religion so requires) Elauf's wearing of a headscarf is (3) a "religious practice." All that remains is whether she was not hired (2) "because of" her religious practice.
The term "because of" appears frequently in antidiscrimination laws. It typically imports, at a minimum, the traditional standard of but-for causation. University of Tex. Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 186 L.Ed.2d 503 (2013). Title VII relaxes this standard, however, to prohibit even making a protected characteristic a "motivating factor" in an employment decision. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m). "Because of" in § 2000e-2(a)(1) links the forbidden consideration to each of the verbs preceding it; an individual's actual religious practice may not be a motivating factor in failing to hire, in refusing to hire, and so on.
It is significant that § 2000e-2(a)(1) does not impose a knowledge requirement. As Abercrombie acknowledges, some antidiscrimination statutes do. For example,
Instead, the intentional discrimination provision prohibits certain motives, regardless of the state of the actor's knowledge. Motive and knowledge are separate concepts. An employer who has actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation does not violate Title VII by refusing to hire an applicant if avoiding that accommodation is not his motive. Conversely, an employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.
Thus, the rule for disparate-treatment claims based on a failure to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant's religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions. For example, suppose that an employer thinks (though he does not know for certain) that a job applicant may be an orthodox Jew who will observe the Sabbath, and thus be unable to work on Saturdays. If the applicant actually requires an accommodation of that religious practice, and the employer's desire to avoid the prospective accommodation is a motivating factor in his decision, the employer violates Title VII.
Abercrombie urges this Court to adopt the Tenth Circuit's rule "allocat[ing] the burden of raising a religious conflict." Brief for Respondent 46. This would require the employer to have actual knowledge of a conflict between an applicant's religious practice and a work rule. The problem with this approach is the one that inheres in most incorrect interpretations of statutes: It asks us to add words to the law to produce what is thought to be a desirable result. That is Congress's province. We construe Title VII's silence as exactly that: silence. Its disparate-treatment provision prohibits actions taken with the motive of avoiding the need for accommodating a religious practice. A request for accommodation, or the employer's certainty that the practice exists, may make it easier to infer motive, but is not a necessary condition of liability.
Abercrombie argues in the alternative that a claim based on a failure to accommodate an applicant's religious practice must be raised as a disparate-impact claim, not a disparate-treatment claim. We think not. That might have been true if Congress had limited the meaning of "religion" in Title VII to religious belief—so that discriminating against a particular religious practice would not be disparate treatment though it might have disparate impact. In fact, however, Congress defined "religion," for Title VII's purposes, as "includ[ing] all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j). Thus, religious practice is one of the protected characteristics
Nor does the statute limit disparate-treatment claims to only those employer policies that treat religious practices less favorably than similar secular practices. Abercrombie's argument that a neutral policy cannot constitute "intentional discrimination" may make sense in other contexts. But Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices—that they be treated no worse than other practices. Rather, it gives them favored treatment, affirmatively obligating employers not "to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual . . . because of such individual's" "religious observance and practice." An employer is surely entitled to have, for example, a noheadwear policy as an ordinary matter. But when an applicant requires an accommodation as an "aspec[t] of religious . . . practice," it is no response that the subsequent "fail[ure] . . . to hire" was due to an otherwise-neutral policy. Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.
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The Tenth Circuit misinterpreted Title VII's requirements in granting summary judgment. We reverse its judgment and remand the case for further consideration consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Justice ALITO, concurring in the judgment.
This case requires us to interpret a provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits an employer from taking an adverse employment action (refusal to hire, discharge, etc.) "against any individual . . . because of[
In this case, Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, wore a headscarf for a religious reason when she was interviewed for a job in a store operated by Abercrombie & Fitch. She was rejected because her scarf violated Abercrombie's dress code for employees. There is sufficient evidence in the summary judgment record to support a finding that Abercrombie's decisionmakers knew that Elauf was a Muslim and that she wore the headscarf for a religious reason. But she was never asked why she wore the headscarf and did not volunteer that information. Nor was she told that she would be prohibited from wearing the headscarf on the job. The Tenth Circuit held that Abercrombie was entitled to summary judgment because, except perhaps in unusual circumstances, "[a]pplicants or employees must initially inform employers of their religious practices that conflict with a work requirement and their
The relevant provisions of Title VII, however, do not impose the notice requirement that formed the basis for the Tenth Circuit's decision. While I interpret those provisions to require proof that Abercrombie knew that Elauf wore the headscarf for a religious reason, the evidence of Abercrombie's knowledge is sufficient to defeat summary judgment.
The opinion of the Court states that "§ 2000e-2(a)(1) does not impose a knowledge requirement," ante, at 2032, but then reserves decision on the question whether it is a condition of liability that the employer know or suspect that the practice he refuses to accommodate is a religious practice, ante, at 2033, n. 3, but in my view, the answer to this question, which may arise on remand,
The scarves that Elauf wore were not articles of clothing that were designed or marketed specifically for Muslim women. Instead, she generally purchased her scarves at ordinary clothing stores. In this case, the Abercrombie employee who interviewed Elauf had seen her wearing scarves on other occasions, and for reasons that the record does not make clear, came to the (correct) conclusion that she is a Muslim. But suppose that the interviewer in this case had never seen Elauf before. Suppose that the interviewer thought Elauf was wearing the scarf for a secular reason. Suppose that nothing else about Elauf made the interviewer even suspect that she was a Muslim or that she was wearing the scarf for a religious reason. If "§ 2000e-2(a)(1) does not impose a knowledge requirement," Abercrombie would still be liable. The EEOC, which sued on Elauf's behalf, does not adopt that interpretation, see, e.g., Brief for Petitioner 19, and it is surely wrong.
The statutory text does not compel such a strange result. It is entirely reasonable to understand the prohibition against an employer's taking an adverse action because of a religious practice to mean that an employer may not take an adverse action because of a practice that the employer knows to be religious. Consider the following sentences. The parole board granted the prisoner parole because of an exemplary record in prison. The court sanctioned the attorney because of a flagrant violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. No one is likely to understand these sentences to mean that the parole board granted parole because of a record that, unbeknownst to the board, happened to be exemplary or that the court sanctioned the attorney because of a violation that, unbeknownst to the court, happened to be flagrant. Similarly,
This interpretation makes sense of the statutory provisions. Those provisions prohibit intentional discrimination, which is blameworthy conduct, but if there is no knowledge requirement, an employer could be held liable without fault. The prohibition of discrimination because of religious practices is meant to force employers to consider whether those practices can be accommodated without undue hardship. See § 2000e(j). But the "no-knowledge" interpretation would deprive employers of that opportunity. For these reasons, an employer cannot be liable for taking adverse action because of a religious practice if the employer does not know that the practice is religious.
A plaintiff need not show, however, that the employer took the adverse action because of the religious nature of the practice. Cf. post, at 2038 - 2039 (THOMAS, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Suppose, for example, that an employer rejected all applicants who refuse to work on Saturday, whether for religious or nonreligious reasons. Applicants whose refusal to work on Saturday was known by the employer to be based on religion will have been rejected because of a religious practice.
This conclusion follows from the reasonable accommodation requirement imposed by § 2000e(j). If neutral work rules (e.g., every employee must work on Saturday, no employee may wear any head covering) precluded liability, there would be no need to provide that defense, which allows an employer to escape liability for refusing to make an exception to a neutral work rule if doing so would impose an undue hardship.
This brings me to a final point. Under the relevant statutory provisions, an employer's failure to make a reasonable accommodation is not an element that the plaintiff must prove. I am therefore concerned about the Court's statement that it "is the plaintiff's burden [to prove failure to accommodate]." Ante, at 2032 n. 2. This blatantly contradicts the language of the statutes. As I noted at the beginning, when § 2000e-2(a) and § 2000e(j) are combined, this is the result:
The clause that begins with the term "unless" unmistakably sets out an employer defense. If an employer chooses to assert that defense, it bears both the burden of production and the burden of persuasion. A plaintiff, on the other hand, must prove the elements set out prior to the "unless" clause, but that portion of the rule makes no mention of accommodation. Thus, a plaintiff need not plead or prove that the employer wished to avoid making an accommodation or could have done so without undue hardship. If a plaintiff shows that the employer took an adverse employment action because of a religious observance or practice, it is then up to the employer to plead and prove the defense. The Court's statement subverts the statutory text, and in close cases, the Court's reallocation of the burden of persuasion may be decisive.
Justice THOMAS, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I agree with the Court that there are two—and only two—causes of action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as understood by our precedents: a disparate-treatment (or intentional-discrimination) claim and a disparate-impact claim. Ante, at 2031 - 2032. Our agreement ends there. Unlike the majority, I adhere to what I had thought before today was an undisputed proposition: Mere application of a neutral policy cannot constitute "intentional discrimination." Because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can prevail here only if Abercrombie engaged in intentional discrimination, and because Abercrombie's application of its neutral Look Policy does not meet that description, I would affirm the judgment of the Tenth Circuit.
This case turns on whether Abercrombie's conduct constituted "intentional discrimination" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(a)(1). That provision allows a Title VII plaintiff to "recover compensatory and punitive damages" only against an employer "who engaged in unlawful intentional discrimination (not an employment practice that is unlawful because of its disparate impact)." The damages award EEOC obtained against Abercrombie is thus proper only if that company engaged in "intentional discrimination"—as opposed to "an employment practice that is unlawful because of its disparate impact"—within the meaning of § 1981a(a)(1).
The terms "intentional discrimination" and "disparate impact" have settled meanings in federal employment discrimination law. "[I]ntentional discrimination . . . occur[s] where an employer has treated a particular person less favorably than others because of a protected trait." Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 577, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 174 L.Ed.2d 490 (2009) (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted). "[D]isparate-impact claims," by contrast, "involve employment practices that are facially neutral in their treatment of different groups but that in fact fall more harshly on one group than another and cannot be justified by business necessity." Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 44, 52, 124 S.Ct. 513, 157 L.Ed.2d 357 (2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). Conceived by this Court in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971), this "theory of discrimination" provides that "a facially neutral employment practice may be deemed illegally discriminatory without evidence of the employer's subjective intent to discriminate that is required in a disparate-treatment case," Raytheon, supra, at 52-53, 124 S.Ct. 513 (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted).
Resisting this straightforward application of § 1981a, the majority expands the meaning of "intentional discrimination" to include a refusal to give a religious applicant "favored treatment." Ante, at 2033 - 2034. But contrary to the majority's assumption, this novel theory of discrimination is not commanded by the relevant statutory text.
Title VII makes it illegal for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire . . . any individual. . . because of such individual's . . . religion." § 2000e-2(a)(1). And as used in Title VII, "[t]he term `religion' includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee's or prospective employee's religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business." § 2000e(j). With this gloss on the definition of "religion" in § 2000e-2(a)(1), the majority concludes that an employer may violate Title VII if he "refuse[s] to hire . . . any individual . . . because of such individual's. . . religious . . . practice" (unless he has an "undue hardship" defense). See ante, at 2031 - 2032.
But inserting the statutory definition of religion into § 2000e-2(a) does not answer the question whether Abercrombie's refusal to hire Elauf was "because of her religious practice." At first glance, the phrase "because of such individual's religious practice" could mean one of two things. Under one reading, it could prohibit taking an action because of the religious nature of an employee's particular practice. Under the alternative reading, it could prohibit taking an action because of an employee's practice that happens to be religious.
The distinction is perhaps best understood by example. Suppose an employer with a neutral grooming policy forbidding facial hair refuses to hire a Muslim who wears a beard for religious reasons. Assuming the employer applied the neutral grooming policy to all applicants, the motivation behind the refusal to hire the Muslim applicant would not be the religious nature of his beard, but its existence. Under the first reading, then, the Muslim applicant would lack an intentional-discrimination claim, as he was not refused employment "because of" the religious nature of his practice. But under the second reading, he would have such a claim, as he was refused employment "because of" a practice that happens to be religious in nature.
One problem with the second, more expansive reading is that it would punish
For purposes of today's decision, however, the majority opts for a compromise, albeit one that lacks a foothold in the text and fares no better under our precedents. The majority construes § 2000e-2(a)(1) to punish employers who refuse to accommodate applicants under neutral policies when they act "with the motive of avoiding accommodation." Ante, at 2033. But an employer who is aware that strictly applying a neutral policy will have an adverse effect on a religious group, and applies the policy anyway, is not engaged in intentional discrimination, at least as that term has traditionally been understood. As the Court explained many decades ago, "`Discriminatory purpose'"—i.e., the purpose necessary for a claim of intentional discrimination—demands "more than . . . awareness of consequences. It implies that the decisionmaker . . . selected or reaffirmed a particular course of action at least in part `because of,' not merely `in spite of,' its adverse effects upon an identifiable group." Personnel Administrator of Mass. v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 279, 99 S.Ct. 2282, 60 L.Ed.2d 870 (1979) (internal citation and footnote omitted).
I do not dispute that a refusal to accommodate can, in some circumstances, constitute intentional discrimination. If an employer declines to accommodate a particular religious practice, yet accommodates a similar secular (or other denominational) practice, then that may be proof that he has "treated a particular person less favorably than others because of [a religious practice]." Ricci, 557 U.S., at 577, 129 S.Ct. 2658 (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted); see also, e.g., Dixon v. Hallmark Cos., 627 F.3d 849, 853 (C.A.11 2010) (addressing a policy forbidding display of "religious items" in management offices). But merely refusing to create an exception to a neutral policy for a religious practice cannot be described as treating a particular applicant "less favorably than others." The majority itself appears to recognize that its construction requires something more than equal treatment. See ante, at 2034 ("Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices," but instead "gives them favored treatment"). But equal treatment is not disparate treatment, and that basic principle should have disposed of this case.
The majority's novel theory of intentional discrimination is also inconsistent with the history of this area of employment discrimination law. As that history shows, cases arising out of the application of a neutral policy absent religious accommodations have traditionally been understood to involve only disparate-impact liability.
This Court's first decision to discuss a refusal to accommodate a religious practice, Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 97 S.Ct. 2264, 53 L.Ed.2d 113 (1977), similarly did not treat such conduct as intentional discrimination. Hardison involved a conflict between an employer's neutral seniority system for assigning shifts and an employee's observance of a Saturday Sabbath. The employer denied the employee an accommodation, so he refused to show up for work on Saturdays and was fired. Id., at 67-69, 97 S.Ct. 2264. This Court held that the employer was not liable under Title VII because the proposed accommodations would have imposed an undue hardship on the employer. Id., at 77, 97 S.Ct. 2264. To bolster its conclusion that there was no statutory violation, the Court relied on a provision of Title VII shielding the application of a "`bona fide seniority or merit system'" from challenge unless that application is "`the result of an intention to discriminate because of . . . religion.'" Id., at 81-82, 97 S.Ct. 2264 (quoting § 2000e-2(h)). In applying that provision, the Court observed that "[t]here ha[d] been no suggestion of discriminatory intent in th[e] case." Id., at 82, 97 S.Ct. 2264. But if the majority's view were correct—if a mere refusal to accommodate a religious practice under a neutral policy could constitute intentional discrimination—then the Court in Hardison should never have engaged in such reasoning. After all, the employer in Hardison knew of the employee's religious practice and refused to make an exception to its neutral seniority system, just as Abercrombie arguably knew of Elauf's religious practice and refused to make an exception to its neutral Look Policy.
At least before we granted a writ of certiorari in this case, the EEOC too understood that merely applying a neutral policy did not automatically constitute intentional discrimination giving rise to a disparate-treatment claim. For example, the Commission explained in a recent compliance manual, "A religious accommodation claim is distinct from a disparate treatment claim, in which the question is whether employees are treated equally." EEOC Compliance Manual § 12-IV, p. 46 (2008). Indeed, in asking us to take this case, the EEOC dismissed one of Abercrombie's supporting authorities as "a case addressing intentional discrimination, not religious accommodation." Reply to Brief in Opposition 7, n. Once we granted certiorari in this case, however, the EEOC altered course and advanced the intentional-discrimination theory now adopted by the majority. The Court should have rejected this eleventh-hour request to expand our understanding of "intentional discrimination" to include merely applying a religion-neutral policy.
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The Court today rightly puts to rest the notion that Title VII creates a freestanding religious-accommodation claim, ante, at 2031 - 2032, but creates in its stead an entirely new form of liability: the disparate-treatment-based-on-equal-treatment claim. Because I do not think that Congress'