EEOC Sues Abercrombie & Fitch (Again) For Religious Discrimination

Clothier Abercrombie & Fitch, the 21st century’s equivalent of the old South’s Woolworth’s lunch counter, is being sued again by the EEOC.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the federal discrimination suit in San Francisco Monday, after efforts to reach a settlement with the retailer failed.

It’s the third time in less than two years that A&F has been sued by the EEOC. These cases all involve religious discrimination claims. However, the company has been sued in the past over other Civil Rights Act violations. In 2005 it settled a class-action that cost it some $50 million in compensation and compliance.

Suit involves Muslim women wearing headscarves

The most recent suits involve Muslim women who were either refused a job, or were allegedly fired, because their wearing of a headscarf required by their beliefs didn’t comply with the company’s dress code.

Monday’s suit involves 19-year-old Umme-Hani Khan who, despite wearing a headscarf, was hired to work at one of the firm’s stores in Northern California. She was asked to switch to a scarf in the brand colors of the Hollister store, where she was primarily assigned to stockroom duty. She did. But a few months later she was fired when she refused to remove her scarf after being ordered to by a district manager and an HR manager.

“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?”

Other lawsuits over the same issue

The San Francisco office filed a similar type of suit last September, claiming that another of the company’s Bay Area stores refused to hire another teenager because of her headscarf. According to the EEOC, the girl was asked by the manager at an Abercrombie Kids store if her religious beliefs required the headscarf. When she said yes, her application was rejected with the notation ““not Abercrombie look.”

A nearly identical case out of Tulsa, Okla. was filed in September 2009 by the EEOC, which alleged that an Abercrombie Kids store there rejected a female teenager because of her headscarf. That case is scheduled for trial next month.

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In 2004, A&F settled an EEOC suit and class action brought by women and minorities who were denied promotions or not hired because they didn’t fit the “look” the company was promoting. Although it didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, the settlement required it to pay $40 million to the class members, institute an aggressive diversity hiring program that included bringing on 25 diversity recruiters, and to be monitored for compliance for up to six years.

The company did not return a call asking for comment, but it’s general counsel did talk to the Associated Press.

“We comply with the law regarding reasonable religious accommodation, and we will continue to do so,” said Rocky Robbins. “We are confident that when this matter is tried, a jury will find that we have fully complied with the law.”

The company has also been accused of using soft core porn to sell its clothing, and, most recently, has been criticized for selling a line of padded bikinis for children.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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