On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch, a labor case that could have a huge effect on American workers. It examines whether employees must explicitly ask their bosses for religious accommodation in order to be protected by federal anti-discrimination laws. The court’s decision could affect disabled and pregnant workers, too.

The case traces its origins back to 2008 when Samantha Elauf, then 17, applied for a job at Abercrombie & Fitch, the fashion retailer known for its restrictive “look policy.” (The policy has been criticized before as discriminatory against black, Latino and Asian workers.) Ms. Elauf’s interviewer liked her but thought the company might not hire her because she wore a hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women. A senior supervisor rejected the application. The official reason: The headwear clashed with the company’s dress code, which is based on “the preppy look of the Ivy League.”

The EEOC sued Abercrombie on grounds of religious discrimination. A federal District Court in Oklahoma ruled in favor of the agency, but the decision was overturned on appeal in 2013 when an appellate judge in Denver ruled it was Elauf’s responsibility to ask for a religious accommodation. The judge reasoned that, because Elauf never told the interviewer she wore the headscarf for religious reasons, Abercrombie could not have known it needed to accommodate her.

The Supreme Court will clarify where the responsibility lies. It could decide that it’s up to employers to address potential conflicts of this sort. If that happens, the Court’s ruling could extend to disabled people and pregnant women, other classes granted protections and accommodations under the EEOC. A decision in favor of Abercrombie could shift responsibility to employees to raise any potential need for accommodations.

“It would be a change in practice if the court sides with Abercrombie,” says Lucretia Clemons, a partner in Ballard Spahr’s Philadelphia office.

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