Retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch has had its share of discrimination-related smackdowns. In 2004, the EEOC sued Abercrombie for race discrimination arising out of its hiring practices. Abercrombie’s marketing and hiring strategy focused almost exclusively on good-looking white young men and women. The EEOC obtained a $50 million settlement with the store, as well as the store’s commitment to “diversify” its marketing and hiring efforts and train its employees on the anti-discrimination laws.
Last September, the EEOC filed a discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie based on its failure to hire a young woman who wore a hijab, a religious headscarf. (We blogged about this case, the outcome of which is as of yet unknown).
Last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the country’s largest Muslim civil rights organizations, filed an EEOC complaint against Abercrombie-owned Hollister, also a retail store. According to the complaint, nineteen year old Umme-Hani Kahn, a stockroom worker, was fired for refusing to take off her hijab. Kahn was told she could wear her hijab when she was hired last October, so long as it was white, gray, or blue, so as to conform with the store’s “looks” policy. But when a new district manager came to the store last month, Kahn was told wearing the hijab in any color violated the “looks” policy. When Kahn claimed she could not remove it due to her religious beliefs, she was fired, according to the complaint.
It surprises me that some employers continue to be completely confounded by the duty to accommodate religious beliefs. It’s not all that complicated, so long as employers take the time to know the general rules, and to train on them. Even basic anti-discrimination training can enable employers and their managers to at least spot potential legal issues. The lesson here is, in short, if an employee cites a religious belief as the basis for a specific appearance, whether it be a hijab, a yarmulka, a tattoo, a hairstyle, or anything else, check with counsel and go through a very careful analysis before firing that employee.