Religious Bias Catches Up to Abercrombie & Fitch

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – Abercrombie & Fitch violated federal law by firing a Muslim woman for wearing a head scarf as her religion requires, a federal judge has ruled.
     As a Muslim woman, Umme-Hani Khan wears a head scarf, also known as a hijab, when in public or in the presence of men who are not immediate family members.
     Abercrombie fired Khan after she refused to remove her headscarf. The company claimed the headscarf violated their “Look Policy,” which forbids employees from wearing headwear. The clothing retailer said its Look Policy is part of a marketing strategy and creates “an ‘in-store experience’ for customers that conveys the principal elements and personality of each Abercrombie brand.”
     Abercrombie considers the in-store experience to be its main form of marketing and expects sales associate to “reinforce the aspirational lifestyles represented by the brands” and be “a central element in creating the atmosphere of the stores.”
     Although Khan’s supervisors never informed her she was not complying with the Look Policy and permitted her to wear her headscarf so long as it matched company colors, Khan’s employment was terminated after her store’s district manager paid a visit. Khan’s refusal to remove her hijab was the sole reason for her termination.
     Filing suit on Khan’s behalf, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused Abercrombie of discriminating against employees on basis of religion.
     It sought an injunction preventing Abercrombie from forbidding employees from wearing headwear. Abercrombie claimed any deviation from the Look Policy would cause “undue hardship” to the company and negatively impact sales.
     U.S. District Judge Gonzalez-Rogers found last week, however, that the evidence Abercrombie presented did not “raise a triable issue that a hardship, much less an undue hardship, would have resulted from allowing Khan to wear her hijab, particularly where she had already been wearing the hijab on the job for four months without any complaints, disruption, or a noticeable effect on sales.”
     Rogers granted the commission and Khan summary judgment, finding that Abercrombie was liable for failing to accommodate Khan’s religious beliefs and may owe punitive damages.
     Abercrombie & Fitch operates retail stores across the country under the brand names Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister Co., Abercrombie Kids and Gilly Hicks.

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