Abercrombie & Fitch Sued by Muslim Employee Over Head Scarf

Discussion
Jun 29, 2011
George Anderson

A former employee at Hollister, an Abercrombie & Fitch chain, claims she was fired after refusing to remove her headscarf (hijab). The young woman, Hani Khan, is joining a suit with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission against the retailer on the grounds of religious discrimination.

Ms. Khan, who was hired as a stockroom clerk, said she was told when she was hired that wearing the hijab would be okay as long as it was consistent with the company’s colors.

In February of last year, the same month Ms. Khan was fired, she told AOL News, "The manager mentioned the store’s ‘look policy’ and said I’d have to wear either a white, navy or gray-colored scarf. I was fine with that."

Ms. Khan said she was later suspended and then fired after refusing to remove the garment following a request by a district manager and a human resources manager at the company.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is representing Ms. Khan in the case.

Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Bay Area office for the organization, told the San Mateo County Times, "For an employer to, point-blank, require an employee to relinquish their religious practice is a violation of our cherished civil rights laws. It’s really important that individual rights are protected and the 1964 Civil Rights Act is upheld."

According to Reuters, the current lawsuit "echoes similar complaints brought against Abercrombie & Fitch in the past by black, Latino and other minority workers and applicants who alleged the company had a ‘look policy’ that discriminated against them."

The news service points out that the retailer reached a $40 million deal in 2004 to settle a federal class action suit brought against it over its employment practices for minority workers.

Abercrombie & Fitch has not responded to the charges as of yet.

Discussion Questions: Is physical appearance or dress a valid reason for not hiring an otherwise qualified person for a job at retail? What should be done at Abercrombie & Fitch if the charges brought by Hani Khan are shown to have merit?

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19 Comments on "Abercrombie & Fitch Sued by Muslim Employee Over Head Scarf"


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Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 10 months ago

Newsflash for the folks at A&F… The only reason the population of the United States is growing at all is because of immigration. If they’re really not open to cultural diversity, they’re going to have an enormous problem remaining relevant – if they still are anyway.

David Dorf
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

This is a tough call. Fashion is image, and so managing the employees’ dress is part of the store experience. However, reading a little more detail shows that she was working at that store in the stockroom for six months without incident. It was only when the district manager noticed her that there was a problem. If it was against policy, she should have never been hired in the first place (she wore the head scarf during the interview and was told to only wear certain colors). In this case, A&F was wrong.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Because they already hired her, they need to respect her civil liberties. However, it seems like A&F can’t keep its policy straight. Is there a uniform required for this job or not? If so, what is the uniform? These issues need to be very clear, and agreed to, in the interview process. My mom used to tell me – Marry in Haste, Repent at Leisure.

Kevin Graff
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

There are 2 separate points to be made here. First, A&F was dead wrong to fire the person on the dress code issue. They hired her in ‘plain view’ and then changed their stance. They’ll get their wrist slapped for this.

Second, let’s address the question of whether retailers should hire based, to some degree, on personal appearance. The answer is “yes” now, and always has been (at least in the fashion business). Store staff should ‘look’ like they fit the brand and the product being sold, and the customers they are serving. We don’t hire tiny, petite women to work in plus-size stores. We don’t hire older workers to sell skateboards. This second point has nothing to do with the A&F issue. But, even if HR directors won’t admit it, personal appearance is a part of the hiring decision for most every retailer.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Physical appearance is a valid reason not to hire an otherwise qualified person (would high-end jewelers want to hire someone with blue hair and a tongue ring?) But religious practice is a completely different story. What’s next — banning the wearing of a Star of David or crucifix?

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Physical appearance and dress are most definitely valid considerations whether someone should be allowed to work in various retail positions in which the associate has contact with the consumer. The standards have to be set, and then applied in a consistent manner by the retailer.

For example, if a retailer has a policy of “no facial piercings”, “no recognizable tattoo”, “no inappropriate dress”, etc., and lets an associate know of those standards during the pre-hire stage, they are taking the right steps. Execution at the store level then has to take place, and policies, such as dress, have to be consistently enforced.

Like it, or agree with it, or not, when a retailer finds itself “settling on $40 million federal class action suits”, they have to take the time to train, coach, and then reinforce the standards and policies that they put in place.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 10 months ago
This is a no win for anyone and certainly not for A&F. I’m a big believer in the advice: “Paint your problems in bright colors.” If A&F would issue a head scarf in company colors with the A&F name printed on it etc. they could turn it into a fashion statement. My understanding is that at first they did permit a scarf in company colors but then reneged. That’s too bad because that was on the right track. There’s been many a runway model with her head wrapped up in the strangest of ways and we all applauded the creativity. I guarantee if a hot model wore a head scarf for NON-religious but purely fashionable reasons they’d be displayed in the center aisle of the flagship store. For goodness sakes look at what women put on their heads for the Royal Wedding! Or consider women going through chemo who choose to wrap their head; we have nothing but empathy. Attaching religious significance to a head covering of any sort is the prerogative of the wearer… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Well, I think A&F is an “equal opportunity discriminator”. The company’s image is of hot young men and women. All others need not apply. The amazing part is actually that they hired this woman at all.

So I think the “class” at issue here is not just Muslims, it’s anyone that doesn’t get hired because they don’t fit the mold.

Do I think it’s right? No. Do I think it’s a reality? Yes. You have to be a very exceptional individual to overcome the prejudice of the hiring manager and/or company’s image.

Dennis Serbu
Guest
Dennis Serbu
9 years 10 months ago

Where the appearance is a matter of choice over handicap, I support the right of the employer to select and retain employees based on a criteria that best represents their business model.

If a prospective employee or existing employee finds the policy unacceptable, there is no prohibition against them seeking employment elsewhere.

In areas where there is not choice due to age, handicap, race or other characteristics that cannot be altered, and the employee is performing, there may be merit.

Discrimination on the basis of appearance alone is not prohibited by Title VII; a plaintiff wishing to challenge the legality of “appearance” discrimination must in some form tie appearance to discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age, disability or some other legally protected characteristic. I did not see religious garb mentioned in the brief.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
9 years 10 months ago

Of course companies should not discriminate based on religion. But let’s remember, this is her “claim” and is not proven in a court of law. There may have been other extenuating circumstances that are not known because A&F is not represented in this article.

That said, if this is why she was let go, then I think that was wrong. They can require certain dress codes. For example, my daughter worked at Hollister and in the summer time, she had to wear flip flops. They also wanted her to wear stylish clothes. She wore an outfit one time that was not in compliance and she was sent home to change, and she did. However, it becomes very touchy when the clothing change is related to religion. A&F are selling fashion. That makes this case more complicated. However, if she was wearing the colors they requested, they had no right to fire her based on this alone.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Of course they have merit, if this is the full story. There are two sides to every story, and we only have the lawsuit side…based upon this, discrimination from A&F is obvious. This makes their actions horribly wrong. Their past errors seem to make these actions just that much worse….

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 10 months ago

Yes it certainly is! Every business attempts to create a certain mood with their decor and that includes the employees and the way they look. Furthermore, no business has an obligation to support any religion or religious custom. If a business doesn’t include head scarfs as a part of their employee dress code, then an employee has no right to wear one. If you want to wear a head scarf to work, you should check your employer’s policy before you apply for a job! And what is “otherwise qualified”? If a potential employee is more interested in making religious statements than doing the job in the manner prescribed, then I might not consider them “otherwise qualified”!

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Where is the outrage for this action? Would we be more outraged if A&F fired a hot young guy because he wore a yarmulke? Or, how about a hot young woman who is told to take off the cross around her neck? If A&F doesn’t fire a young man with a yarmulke or force a woman to take off her cross, then they are blatantly discriminating against this Muslim woman for wearing a hijab. This isn’t a matter of dress code. This is simply a matter of religious freedom.

R Seaman
Guest
R Seaman
9 years 10 months ago

A&F should have the right to establish a dress code if an employee will be exposed to the general public.

In this case the employee was told by a management employee that she could wear her hijab with no restriction except color. In addition, she was working in the stockroom where she was not exposed to the public. Firing her under these circumstances should result in a penalty for A&F.

On the other hand A&F should have the right to impose a dress code if this employee had been asked to serve on the selling floor. Wearing a hijab in this case, regardless of its color, could possibly offend many customers.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Boy that is a tough one. There is the question of doing things right versus doing the right thing. Youthful customers can be very opinionated, and maybe not so politically correct sometimes. If how a salesperson looks is affecting sales, the store has to do something. They probably shouldn’t make a policy that they won’t hire anyone with green hair, but if the employee is using his or her position in the store to prompt others to dye their hair green, that should be frowned upon.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

A&F has and continues to exacerbate its image problem. This is an add-on to the others. I realize jobs are hard to come by these days and assume that is the only reason this lady applied there. HR departments have unwritten hiring rules. Certainly A&F rules are quietly known by all, as are Hooters. Sure hope she does not apply there next.

Geoffrey Igharo
Guest
Geoffrey Igharo
9 years 10 months ago

One has to wonder how competent a fashion industry company is if they are unable to find a stylish way to integrate a simple piece of clothing.

And if it isn’t incompetence, well then we start to approach the territory where the employee probably has a pretty strong case for deliberate discrimination.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

What surprised me in all the comments is the idea that A&F is a “they.” This happened because a manager made an exception, there was probably a management change and the new manager or their supervisor didn’t know of the exception or overruled them. This is why retail can be so vexing as we’re dealing with human beings–not computer programs you can easy track and fix.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 10 months ago

Just wanted to follow up on Bob Phibbs comment asking why many of us referred to A&F as “they” in our comments. I can only speak for myself but this isn’t the first example of discriminatory practices that I’m aware of. Bob may recall A&F relegating a young lady with a prosthetic arm to nothing but back-room stock duty last year. So, personally, yes…I do look at the attitude as systemic and not simply one manager’s mistake.

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