Lawsuit Against Abercrombie & Fitch Says Company Discriminated Against Employee for Hijab
A judge ruled that the clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch violated the civil rights of a former employee when they discriminated against, then fired, her for wearing a hijab, or headscarf.
Umme-Hani Khan, 19 years old, filed a lawsuit against her former employers for discrimination in 2011. She says that the company violated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) legislation when they fired her for refusing to take off her headscarf at work. According to a press release form the EEOC, Khan was hired at a Hollister store in San Mateo, California, in 2009 as an “impact associate,” meaning she worked mostly in the stock room and was not seen by customers.
Khan claimed that she was first asked to wear headscarves in the Hollister brand colors, which she agreed to do. However, she was later told that she could not wear a hijab at work at all, according to the store’s “look book” policies, which dictate that employees must present a certain appealing appearance for customers. The “look book” policy specifically says that employees cannot wear head coverings of any kind.
Khan was fired when she refused to remove her hijab. She filed a lawsuit the next year, claiming the company discriminated against her religious beliefs.
“No one should have to choose between keeping their faith and keeping their job,” EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said in a statement.
The case will now officially move to trial, where a jury will determine the damages. US District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said that Abercrombie’s lawyers had only offered“unsubstantiated opinion testimony of its own employees to support its claim of undue hardship” and had undercut its own argument regarding the “look book” by offering to rehire Ms. Khan with her headscarf.
Abercrombie argued that “its Look Policy goes to the ‘very heart of [its] business model’ and thus any requested accommodation to deviate from the Look Policy threatens the company’s success, ” observing that “Abercrombie only offers unsubstantiated opinion testimony of its own employees to support its claim of undue hardship. The deposition testimony and declarations from Abercrombie witnesses demonstrate their personal beliefs, but are not linked to any credible evidence.”
“Abercrombie must provide more than generalized subjective beliefs or assumptions that deviations from the Look Policy negatively affect the sales or the brand,” the judge wrote. “A reasonable jury could not conclude that Abercrombie would be unduly burdened by allowing Khan to continuing wearing her hijab.”
The decision could open the door for a variety of punitive damages against the company.
“We’re living in America; it’s such a melting pot of diversity with so many different types of people,” Khan said. “That’s why I’ve taken this case so publicly, so that they realize what they did was wrong and what they continue to do is wrong.”
A spokeswoman for Abercrombie & Fitch said the company would look into its policies and change them to accommodate religious choices.
The Strom Law Firm Represents Discriminated Employees in South Carolina
South Carolina is an at-will employment state, meaning that you have the right to quit your job at any time for any reason or no reason at all; likewise, your employer can hire or fire you for any reason or no reason at all.
However, an employer cannot fire you for any reason that:
- is illegal or protected under State or Federal law,
- violates the express terms of an implied or express contractual agreement, or
- violates public policy.
The employment attorneys at the Strom Law Firm represent South Carolina employees in employment matters including:
- wage and hour issues, including being forced to work off of the clock
- covenants not to compete and restrictive covenants,
- employment agreements,
- discrimination/Title VII claims,
- whistleblower or qui tam actions, and
- violations of the South Carolina Wage Payment Act or failure to pay wages when due.
Unlawful discrimination, which is often tied to a constructive discharge claim, is difficult to prove. There are certain procedural steps that you must take to assert your claim, making it critical that you contact a South Carolina employment discrimination attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. We offer free, confidential consultations to discuss the facts of your case, how you were discriminated against, and whether the employee policies of the company provide you with support. 803.252.4800