Abercrombie & Fitch is finally coming to understand that it’s ‘look policy,’ which strictly regulates the workplace attire of employees in Abercrombie stores and subsidiary stores Abercrombie Kids and Hollister Co., s discriminatory. Abercrombie positioned its draconian dress code as the indispensible heart of its business model, claiming that controlling workers’ dress in every way, from the length of their pant cuffs to what jewelry they can wear to work, was the key to its success.
So, when a Muslim woman sued after being fired from a San Mateo store for wearing her religiously-required hijab, Abercrombie defended its policy by asserting that accommodating religious dress requirements would be unduly burdensome and harm its brand. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stepped up, calling the woman’s firing wrongful termination based on religious discrimination.
Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed Abercrombie’s “undue hardship” defense, as have federal judges in two separate cases in April of this year and July 2011. Abercrombie, according to at least two judges, failed to demonstrate by any credible evidence that employee compliance with the “look policy” has any impact on Abercrombie’s brand image or on individual stores’ performance.
As a result, Abercrombie has agreed to settle the San Mateo employee’s claim, along with another case in which a Muslim woman’s application was denied by a Milpitas store because of her hijab. Each will receive $71,000 in damages. The company has agreed to a court order requiring it to provide religious accommodations to its look policy and inform employees and applicants that they are available, train all of its store managers on the issue, and file formal reports with the EEOC and, interestingly, to the San Mateo plaintiff.
"The judge's ruling affirms why I challenged my termination when it happened,” the young woman says. “It is important for people stand up to discrimination when they experience it, because the law is on our side.”
"Where reasonable alternatives exist, the law requires employers to be flexible to enable workers to observe their faith and do their job,” added an EEOC regional attorney. “Employers can't simply reject accommodation requests without concrete proof that the accommodations would cause harm to the business."
Yet, in the case in which the judge found in 2011 that refusing to hire a hijab-wearing woman was religious discrimination, Abercrombie is apparently continuing its appeal.
- EEOC press release, "Abercrombie & Fitch Settles Two Pending EEOC Religious Discrimination Suits," Sept. 23, 2013
- Huffington Post, "Abercrombie Dress Code Enables Discrimination, Insiders Say," Kim Bhasin and Caroline Fairchild, Sept. 19, 2013