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Abercrombie & Fitch Sued Over Hijab

Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F), the beautiful-youth oriented retail store known more for the pecs on their male models than they are for the quality of their clothing, has had a lot of trouble in the employment arena over the past few years.

On April 14, 2005, Judge Susan Illston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted final approval to a settlement of Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch. The settlement requires the company to pay $40 million to several thousand minority and female plaintiffs who charged the company with discrimination. The settlement also requires the company to institute a range of policies and programs to promote diversity among its workforce and to prevent discrimination based on race or gender.

Yet despite these settlements, further lawsuits have plagued the corporation. It seems that A&F is being sued for a second time for discrimination around the wearing of a hijab. In the most recent case filed by the EEOC, it is alleged that the employee was not allowed to wear her hijab because it violated the (well-disregarded) “Look Policy”.

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.– National clothing retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch, doing business as Abercrombie Kids, allegedly discriminated against a 17-year-old Muslim by refusing to hire her because she wore a hijab, or head scarf, in observance of her sincerely held religious beliefs, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in discrimination lawsuit filed today in federal court.

According to the EEOC’s suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, Civil Action No. 09-CV-602-GKF-FHM, Abercrombie Kids interviewed Samantha Elauf for a position at its store located in Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Okla. The EEOC alleges that Abercrombie refused to hire Elauf because she was wearing a head covering when she was interviewed and this violated the company’s “Look Policy,” which prohibited the wearing of head coverings. Elauf had applied for a sales position with Abercrombie Kids.

According to Styleite:

What’s scary, though, is how similar the last case is to this one. From WWD:

In the lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that during an interview with an 18-year-old woman who applied for a job stocking merchandise in a California abercrombie kids store, the store manager asked the applicant if she was Muslim and was required to wear a head scarf. The woman was wearing a head scarf during the interview, according to the EEOC. The complaint alleged that the manager wrote “not Abercrombie look” on the woman’s application. The alleged incident took place at a store in the Great Mall in Milpitas, Calif.

It’s probably worth mentioning that in February 2010, a 19-year-old was fired from a Hollister — which is owned by Abercrombie & Fitch — in San Mateo, California for wearing her headscarf, despite being in compliance with the store’s Look Policy which dictated she wear “either a white, navy or gray-colored scarf.”

Additionally, in 2009, A&F was sued by a woman who alleged that they kept her off the sales floor because of her prosthetic arm.

Dean says that at a May 2008 orientation for new employees, she asked a member of Abercrombie’s corporate staff for permission to wear a medical sock over her arm. The corporate employee told her that she should instead wear a white cardigan, even though Abercrombie & Fitch employees are supposed to wear T-shirts during the summer months…On July 4, 2008, the day of the incident, Dean claims her manager told her to move to the stockroom, repeating to her that she was violating the company’s dress code. According to the affidavit, Dean’s cardigan was in violation of the company’s “look policy,” which stipulates how employees should present themselves. When Dean inquired about the reason for her removal from the main floor, she says she was met with a combative response.

“[The manager's] only answer was, ‘take it off and I’ll put you back on the shop floor,’” Dean said in the statement.

In August of 2009, the claimant was awarded more than $13,000 by an employment tribunal in the UK. I’m sure that this amount is just a mere pittance to a company like A&F, but their questionable policies around physical beauty leave the company vulnerable to further discrimination suits. Of course it doesn’t help that the attorney for A&F had this to say:

But there’s nothing illegal about the company’s attempt to manipulate its image, said Philip K. Davidoff, a partner at Ford & Harrison, who deals with discrimination cases.

“There’s nothing that prohibits discrimination against ugly people,” Davidoff said. “[Abercrombie] wants to have people out on the floor who project a certain image, and that kind of public perception is closely related to their business model.”

He’s right, there is nothing that prohibits discrimination against ugly people UNLESS that discrimination violates the civil rights of the individual.

However, forbidding hijabs, banishing an employee with a prosthetic to the stock room, along with the numerous incidents that led to the 2005 settlement, doesn’t exactly give much credence to A&F’s judgment as to what “ugly” really is.

Category: HR News