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Abercrombie & Fitch Sued For Religious Discrimination

Retail Giant Fires Muslim Teen For Wearing Head Scarf, Federal Agency Charges

SAN FRANCISCO – Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch violated  federal law when it fired a Muslim employee for wearing a hijab (religious head scarf), the U.S. Equal Employment  Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a workplace discrimination lawsuit  filed today.

According  to the EEOC’s suit, in October 2009, Umme-Hani Khan, a 19-year-old Muslim woman,  started working at the Hollister store (an Abercrombie & Fitch brand  targeting teenagers aged 14 through 18) at the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San  Mateo, Calif. As an “impact associate,”  she worked primarily in the stockroom. At  first she was asked to wear headscarves in Hollister colors, which she agreed  to do. However, in mid-February, she  was informed that her hijab violated Abercrombie’s  “look policy,” an internal dress code, and was told she would be taken off  schedule unless she removed her headscarf while at work. According to the EEOC, Khan was fired on Feb.  23, 2010, for refusing to take off the hijab  that her religious beliefs compelled her to wear.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to accommodate  the sincere religious beliefs or practices of employees unless doing so would  impose an undue hardship on the business. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern  District of California after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its  conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages  and punitive damages and injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination. Two non-profit organizations, the Legal Aid  Society/Employment Law Center and the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations, also intervened  in the case to represent Khan.

“Ms. Khan held a low-visibility position, willingly  color-coordinated her headscarf with the store’s brand and capably performed  her stockroom duties for four and half months until a visiting manager flagged  her hijab as a violation of their ‘look  policy’,” said EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado. “What undue burden did this retail giant face  that prevented them from allowing her to practice her faith? Moreover, what kind of statement of  intolerance are they sending to their teen customers?”

Today’s lawsuit is the  second Bay Area suit the EEOC’s San Francisco  office has filed against Abercrombie & Fitch over its failure to  accommodate workers who wear a hijab.  Just last year the EEOC filed a case  concerning Abercrombie’s refusal to hire an applicant due to her headscarf at  the ‘abercrombie kids’ store in Milpitas.  The company’s ‘all-American look’ policy has been a focus for prior EEOC  litigation, resulting in 2005 in a six-year consent decree and $40 million paid  to a class of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and women who were  excluded from hire or promotions in their workforce.

“The  company’s ‘all-American look’ policy is un-American, because it excludes people  because of their race, national origin, gender or religion,” said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo . “Equal opportunity and fair treatment for all  –that’s all-American, and that’s what the EEOC will continue to fight  for.”

Abercrombie  & Fitch Co. operates retail stores under the brands Abercrombie & Fitch, for men and women over the age of 18; abercrombie kids targeting preteens  between ages seven and 14; and Hollister  Co. for teenagers 14 through 18, with more than 1,000 stores in North America.

The EEOC enforces  federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available  on its website at