Abercrombie & Fitch Settles Two Religious Discrimination Lawsuits, Changes Policies Regarding Religious Accommodation Requests

 
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
 

Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch agreed to pay $71,000 and to change its policies to settle two separate religious discrimination lawsuits on behalf of Muslim teens wearing hijabs (religious headscarves).  This settlement follows last week's ruling finding Abercrombie liable for religious discrimination in one case, and an April 2013 ruling dismissing its undue hardship claims in the other suit.  

In an order issued Sept. 3, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers found Abercrombie liable for religious discrimination when it fired a Muslim teenager from her "impact associate" (stockroom employee) position solely for refusing to remove her hijab.  Abercrombie had claimed that the hijab violated its "Look Policy" and permitting employees to wear it would harm the Abercrombie brand.  Observing that Umme-Hani Khan had been interviewed and hired while wearing the hijab and had worked without incident at Abercrombie's Hollister store at the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo, Calif., for four months, the court dismissed Abercrombie's argument as "not linked to any credible evidence."  Khan intervened in the EEOC's lawsuit and was represented by the Legal Aid Society/Employment Law Center and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Similarly, in an April 2013 ruling on the EEOC's lawsuit on behalf of Halla Banafa, U.S. Judge Edward J. Davila also dismissed Abercrombie's undue-hardship claims on summary judgment, citing the "dearth of proof" linking store performance or the Abercrombie brand image to "Look Policy" compliance.  The EEOC lawsuit alleged that the 18-year old Muslim applicant was asked about her headscarf and religion during her interview, then denied a job as an "impact associate" in Abercrombie's Great Mall outlet in Milpitas, Calif., for discriminatory reasons. 

In a third lawsuit not part of this settlement, a district court in Tulsa, Okla., ruled in July of 2011  that it was religious discrimination for Abercrombie not to hire a Muslim applicant for a sales position due to her hijab. That case is pending on appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

The EEOC, Abercrombie and Khan agreed to consolidate the settlement of the two California  lawsuits into one Stipulated Judgment and Decree.  Under the decree, Abercrombie will create an appeals process for denials of religious accommodation requests, inform applicants during interviews that accommodations to the "Look Policy" may be available, and incorporate headscarf scenarios into all manager training.  The company will be required to make regular reviews of religious accommodation decisions to ensure consistency and provide biannual reports to the EEOC and Khan.  Khan and Banafa will also receive $71,000 under the terms of the settlement.

According to company information, 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 aged 14 through 18, with more than 1,000 stores in North America. 

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