Muslim Woman Sues Abercrombie for Discrimination

Image for News Release - Muslim Woman Sues Abercrombie for Discrimination

College student was fired after refusing to remove headscarf; suit is second in Bay Area for the company

(Jun 27, 2011 - San Francisco, CA) 

A 20-year-old Muslim woman who was fired by Abercrombie & Fitch for refusing to remove a headscarf announced Monday that she has filed a lawsuit against her former employer.

Hani Khan, a college student from Foster City, was fired in February 2010 from a Hollister store — a division of Abercrombie & Fitch that targets 14- to 18-year-olds — in the Hillsdale Shopping Center.

Khan’s is the second Bay Area lawsuit against the retail clothing company involving hijabs, the traditional headscarves worn by Muslim women. The first was filed last year after the company failed to hire an applicant at Abercrombie Kids in Milpitas.

Another lawsuit filed in September 2009 in Tulsa, Okla., over a similar incident is expected to go to trial soon.

All three suits were brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that enforces job discrimination laws, and revolve around the company’s controversial “look policy,” which is given to employees upon hire and dictates what colors and styles they must wear.

At a press conference Monday, Khan said the firing left her feeling “demoralized and unwanted.”

“Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I have felt let down,” said Khan, who was born in the United States.

Bill Tamayo, a regional attorney with the EEOC, said Abercrombie & Fitch is behind the times.

“We hope that they’ll come into the time where they will provide religious accommodation and change their policy and instruct all managers to abide by federal law,” he said. “It’s somewhat analogous to earlier days of discrimination laws, not wanting employees in the front, keeping them in the back.”

Khan was hired to work in the stockroom at Hollister in 2009, in what she described as “a fun, after-school job to help save money for college.” At the time, she said, she was told there would be no problem with her hijab as long as she wore the required colors — navy blue, gray or white.

Hollister’s policy “had to do with the beachy, fun vibe,” which meant, jeans, T-shirts and flip-flops, Khan said.

But the atmosphere quickly turned sour when District Manager Adam Chmielewski asked her to speak by phone to Abercrombie & Fitch’s human resources director, Amy Yoakum, according to the lawsuit. Yoakum asked Khan to remove her headscarf when working. When Khan said she couldn’t because of her religious beliefs, she was suspended without pay. A week later, she was fired.

“I was completely shocked. Nothing like this had ever happened to me,” Khan said. “Even after 9/11, I wore my hijab and all my neighbors, classmates and teachers supported me.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment, but its website boasts a “diversity and inclusion” initiative that has raised the number of people of color working in stores to half the staff.

Two nonprofit organizations, the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center and Council on American-Islamic Relations, joined the EEOC’s lawsuit and are representing Khan.

Araceli Martinez-Olguin, a staff attorney with the Employment Law Center, said the suit’s main goal is to convince Abercrombie & Fitch to amend its look policy, which the lawsuit says is not in compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

“The most important thing is to have them amend their policy to allow accommodation for religiously mandated attire,” Martinez-Olguin said.

Source: The Bay Citizen

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