Muslim employee sues Abercrombie & Fitch for religious discrimination

News broke on Friday that a Muslim employee of Abercrombie & Fitch will be suing the company because she was fired for refusing to remove her hijab at work. The San Mateo Patch reported:

The woman, who has not been identified, is a Muslim, and “she was told that her headscarf, though worn based on a religious mandate, was not in compliance with the company’s ‘look policy,’” said those representing her in the lawsuit. She worked at Hollister Co., a subsidiary of Abercrombie & Fitch, in 2009 and 2010.

Abercrombie & Fitch has a spectacularly bad track record on employee discrimination. In 2005, it was the defendant in a class action suit in which female employees alleged that they had been discriminated against on the basis of race and appearance. More recently, it was in the headlines for forcing a young woman with a prosthetic limb to work in the back room, out of sight of customers – and then firing her anyway.

This case has been taken up by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA) and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC). CAIR and LAS-ELC held a press conference today. The plaintiff, Hani Khan, was also present. They are suing Abercrombie & Fitch for religious discrimination. A joint press release from CAIR-SFBA and LAS-ELC recounts the turn of events:

Khan was fired from her job at a Hollister Co. store at the Hillsdale Mall location, after working there for four months in 2009-2010. When she was initially hired in October 2009, she was told her hijab would not be in conflict with the company’s “look policy” so long as she wore it in company colors. Despite complying with this request, in February 2010 a District Manager and Corporate Human Resources Manager asked if she could remove her hijab while working. Khan was suspended and then terminated when she refused to comply with the request, and asserted her right to religious accommodation.

“When I was asked to remove my scarf after being hired with it on, I was demoralized and felt unwanted,” said Khan. “Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I have felt let down.”

CAIR says that Khan’s case is far from the first or only of its kind, and that they regularly receive similar complaints from Muslim employees who face discrimination on the job. If Khan’s case succeeds, Abercrombie & Fitch will be no longer be allowed to discriminate against employees – current or potential – for refusing to remove their hijabs or comparable religious garb.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Good for her! I hope she wins.

  • http://feministing.com/members/shaniquequa92/ Shaniquequa

    Wow, this takes me back to my Hollister interview….but in this case it’s ten times worse.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dim8400/ Jenny

    Your first amendment rights protect you from the government, not from private companies.

    If the GOVT told her she had to take her religious headgear off to work in a governmental agency she would win.

    As she is being told by a private company, the courts cannot do anything as the first amendment only protects you from the government.

    Just as the boy scouts can legally not allow atheists or gays to join as they are a private organization, AF can also not allow headgear wearing muslims to join as they are a private organization.

    • davenj

      No, they can’t. Employment discrimination that doesn’t meet strict scrutiny standards for discrimination is ILLEGAL.

      Just as A&F can’t fire someone just for being Asian, they can’t fire someone just for being Muslim (or Christian, Buddhist, Wiccan, etc.). Even A&F isn’t dumb enough to argue this.

      Instead, what’s at issue is whether or not one’s religious practice interferes with job performance. A business that needs to operate on Friday nights, like a nightclub, can legally not hire an Orthodox Jew who observes Shabbat because that religious obligation interferes with job performance significantly enough to meet strict scrutiny standards.

      An employer must demonstrate a compelling need for religious discrimination within a finely tailored policy. Otherwise, it’s illegal.

      That said, A&F may still have a case, but I doubt it. Unless they have real data to back up the negative business impact of the hijab they’re on the hook for workplace discrimination. A&F can absolutely ask employees to wear reasonable uniforms, and to wear those uniforms in A&F colors. I doubt they can show why a stock room worker wearing a hijab negatively impacts their business model.

    • http://feministing.com/members/shaniquequa92/ Shaniquequa

      But wouldn’t the fact that they discriminated her due to her religon mean something? Anytime you fill out those applications, there is the disclaimer that the cannot deny someone employment due to race, creed, color, gender, orientation, and religon.

    • http://feministing.com/members/djhopscotch/ dill

      Both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on an employee’s religion. She also asked at her time of hire if she could wear the hijab, she was told it was ok. rtfa.

  • http://feministing.com/members/critter/ Critter

    I’m no fan of the hijab, but good for her. Abercrombie has gotten away with racist/sexist/homophobic bullshit for far too long. They need to be driven out of business.

    • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

      Uuuummmmm….yeah, also with their lookism and sucky-ass “hip” music and the hoity-toity preppiness and the expensive-ass prices. My high school counselor had a daughter that went to apply for a job there, she was very pretty and thin with good references, for some reason the fact she’s african-american cost her the job there. Yeah. Girlfriend rocks for suing A&F.

      • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

        And their ablism – see the highlighted link that reads “in the headlines” in the post. And their sexualization of toddlers with those push-up bikinis for babies.