Retail Giant Faces Second Lawsuit Over Failure to Hire Teens Who Wear Religious Head Scarves
SAN JOSE – Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, Co. (NYSE: ANF) violated federal law when it refused to hire a Muslim job applicant because she wore a hijab (religious head scarf), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed today.
In March 2008, the 18-year-old female applied for a job stocking merchandise at the “Abercrombie Kids” store at the Great Mall in Milpitas, Calif. In accordance with her religious beliefs, she wore a colorful headscarf to her interview. According to the EEOC, the Abercrombie & Fitch manager asked if she was Muslim and required to wear a head scarf, then marked “not Abercrombie look” on the young woman’s interview form. The EEOC’s suit alleges that Abercrombie & Fitch refused to accommodate the applicant’s religious beliefs by granting an exception to its “Look Policy,” an internal dress code that includes a prohibition against head coverings.
“This was the first job I ever applied for, and I was excited about the idea of working for Abercrombie & Fitch,” said the job applicant. “I was into fashion, and wore skinny jeans and imported scarves that matched my outfits. The interview crushed me because I never imagined anyone in the Bay Area would reject me because of my head scarf. To this day, I can't walk into Abercrombie & Fitch stores. They didn't just miss out on a hard worker, they lost a customer.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion, and requires employers to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs or practices of employees, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business. After first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement, the EEOC filed this lawsuit (CV10-3911-HRL in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern District of California) to seek back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages, and injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.
EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “This is not the first wake-up call for Abercrombie & Fitch. In 2005, the company agreed to a six-year consent decree and paid $40 million to a class of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and women. Why? They were sued by EEOC and private litigants for refusing to recruit, hire, promote, and retain minorities because they did not fit Abercrombie’s ‘All-American look.’ Now, this retailer that targets a youth market is sending the message that you cannot aspire to their ‘All-American’ brand if you wear a head covering to comply with your faith.”
EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado added, “Looking beyond race, color, national origin, gender and religion, as required by federal law, should complement an effort to promote an ‘All-American’ image. Instead, Abercrombie & Fitch used its brand to exclude and discriminate again, this time against a Muslim teen who was honoring her faith while following her love of fashion.”
This is the second lawsuit filed by the EEOC against Abercrombie & Fitch for failing to accommodate a Muslim teenager’s need to wear a head scarf. The first, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch dba Abercrombie Kids (Case No. 4:09cv602 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma) was filed by the EEOC St. Louis District Office in September 2009.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.