Abercrombie & Fitch Sued Over Religious Discrimination

12:31 AM Posted In , , , Edit This 15 Comments »

"Given the hyper-sexualized advertising that Abercrombie & Fitch has long embraced, it is no surprise that the company encourages its employees to let their hair down. But is the company practicing discrimination if it won't hire a young woman who covers her head for religious reasons? Yes, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last week the EEOC filed suit against Abercrombie on behalf of Samantha Elauf, a 19-year-old community college student from Tulsa, Okla., who is Muslim. The suit alleges that Abercrombie "refused to hire Ms. Elauf because she wears a hijab, claiming that the wearing of the headgear was prohibited by its Look Policy," or employee dress code. The suit says that Abercrombie "failed to accommodate her religious beliefs by making an exception to the Look Policy. These actions constitute discrimination against Ms. Elauf on the basis of religion."

Elauf, who had experience working in retail, interviewed for a position at a Tulsa Abercrombie Kids store in June 2008. During the interview, she wore a black hijab, or headscarf, in line with Muslim religious tradition. According to the EEOC, Elauf got word through a friend, who worked in the store, that the headscarf cost her the job. The EEOC alleges that during its investigation, Abercrombie & Fitch flatly told the agency, in a position statement, that "under the Look Policy, associates must wear clothing that is consistent with the Abercrombie brand, cannot wear hats or other coverings, and cannot wear clothes that are the color black." Elauf is suing for back pay and compensation related to emotional pain and anxiety. "If these allegations are true," says Chuck Thornton, deputy director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, "they are serious. In this day and age, it's not acceptable. Certainly, a headscarf is part and parcel of the Islamic experience."

When contacted for a response, Abercrombie & Fitch issued the following statement: "We cannot comment on pending litigation. We have a strong equal-opportunity policy, and we accommodate religious beliefs and practices when possible. We are confident that the litigation of this matter will demonstrate that we have followed the law in every respect."

Was Abercrombie & Fitch within its rights to enforce its dress code? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination. "It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire .... any individual ... because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin," the law states. The key language, says Stewart Schwab, an employment lawyer and dean of Cornell Law School, is found in a 1972 amendment to Title VII. This amendment defined "religion." It reads, "The 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 an employee's or prospective employee's religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business."

This case could hinge on a jury's interpretation of the phrase "undue hardship." If Abercrombie & Fitch had made an exception of its Look Policy for Elauf - a "reasonable accommodation" - would that move have hurt the Abercrombie brand? On the surface, that argument seems specious, at best. Would shoppers at that Abercrombie Kids store have been so jarred by the hijab that they wouldn't have bought the company's jeans? If the company makes that case, it doesn't think much of the religious tolerance of the good folks of Oklahoma."

I hope she takes them for as much as she can. Before I get into this can of worms let me say that while I am not Muslimah, I do dress modestly and cover my hair.

It is not an undue accommodation to allow a headscarf: it's a scrap of cloth, not a hoopskirt. It's not like she wears niqab or something that hides her face, preventing a rapport with customers. Scarves are ridiculously popular right now. Hell, she could even wear one that A & F carries, and she would practically be an expert on giving tips on how to wear it!

They might have a sliver with the "undue hardship" because many Americans are still pissing their pants over idiots who can't blow up his underwear properly, and I can readily believe that some little air-headed bippy twats might be afraid of the Terrorist. At first, I sighed and gave in to despair due to the fact that this is in Oklahoma, until I read that they had a previous encounter in the school system where the courts upheld the rights of a young hijabi.

So there is some hope for Elauf, and I wish her the best. And before anyone comes along saying that she's forced to wear it, Muslimahs should dress like Paris Hilton just because they're in the West, she should leave, blahblahblah.

  1. She is in the US, not Saudi Arabia.
  2. She has the right to wear as little or as much as she wants. If Brittney can flash her kitty to the whole world, Elauf can cover her hair.
  3. Many Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, and even Pagans wear headscarves. Are you going to kick out the Mennonites, Amish, Orthodox Jews, and every other woman who chooses not put herself on display for the random passerby to drool over?
  4. Freedom of religion means freedom for all faiths, not just your own.

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