EEOC Settles Religious Discrimination Lawsuits

After it won a favorable ruling in court, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) settled two lawsuits with Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. On September 3, 2013, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the District Court of the Northern District of California found that Abercrombie failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to a Muslim employee that wore a hijab at work. A hijab is a religious scarf, or veil, that many Muslim women wear in public. The hijab can symbolize modesty and morality.

A district manager for Abercrombie requested that a Muslim teenager, Ms. Umme-Hani Khan, remove her hijab because it violated the store’s “Look Policy.” After she refused, the company fired her. Ms. Khan interviewed wearing her hijab, and worked four months without any customer complaints. She primarily worked in the stockroom folding clothes. She had complied with the company’s request to only wear certain colors. She also only wore sandals, jeans, and shirts that she bought from the store.

In the decision, Judge Rogers found that Abercrombie was unable to establish that exempting Ms. Khan from the store’s “Look Policy” would impact the store’s performance, its brand image, or store profits. Ultimately, Judge Rodgers found that a reasonable jury could determine that Abercrombie discriminated against Ms. Khan due to her faith.

There have been two other cases involving similar allegations in U.S. district courts over the past couple of years. In July 2011, a district court in Oklahoma found that Abercrombie discriminated when it refused to hire a Muslim candidate. That case is pending before an appellate court. In April 2013, a U.S. district court in California could not find a link between store performance and Abercrombie’s “Look Policy.” In that matter, Ms. Halla Banafa alleged that Abercrombie refused to hire her because she wore a hijab in her interview.

After the most recent ruling on September 3, Abercrombie settled the two cases in California for approximately $71,000.