Abercrombie & Fitch wrongly fired an employee for wearing a headscarf at work.

Abercrombie & Fitch maintains a « Look policy » in its different stores, including one of its subsidiary brands, Hollister. One of Hollister’s employees, wearing a headscarf, was fired after she refused to stop wearing it because it was part of her religion. The senior manager of human ressources decided that wearing a headscarf was not in compliance with the company’s look policy which was part of its marketing strategy. However, the employee « 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 ». The employee brought the issue to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which filed an action on her behalf, alleging discrimination on the basis of religion in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. section 2000e-2(a)(1). The U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued a ruling stating that the company violated anti-discrimination laws when it fired its employee from its Hollister store in San Mateo, Calif., in 2010.

The Federal Court concluded that Abercrombie failed to accommodate the employee’s sincerely-held religious belief that she was required her to wear a headscarf, including while at work. Title VII makes it an “unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges or employment, because of such individual’s . . . religion.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). “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 to an employee’s . . . religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j).

The court decided that Abercrombie failed to establish undue hardship which requires an employer to show that the requested accommodation would result in “more than a de minimus cost.” Abercrombie failed to offer evidence that the employee headscarf outfit had an effect on sales, the brand, or any customer’s experience. Instead, Abercrombie only offered unsubstantiated opinion testimony of its own employees to support its claim of undue hardship.

This lawsuit echoes other lawsuits brought by the EEOC against Abercrombie & Fitch over Abercrombie’s refusal to hire an applicant due to her headscarf at  the ‘abercrombie kids’ store in Milpitas and over the company’s ‘all-American look’ policy which resulted 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.

If you think you have a claim for discrimination, please contact the Harman Law Firm, LLP.