Written by Laura Dudnick
Clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch has been found liable for religious discrimination over the firing of a Muslim employee for wearing her hijab at the company's San Mateo location.
The ruling, handed down Tuesday by a federal judge in San Francisco, said Umme-Hani Khan was wrongly fired over her head scarf.
According to the lawsuit, filed in 2011, 19-year-old Khan started working at the Hollister store -- an Abercrombie & Fitch brand targeting teenagers aged 14 through 18 -- at the Hillsdale Shopping Center in October 2009.
As an “impact associate,” the Muslim teen worked primarily in the stockroom. At first she was asked to wear headscarves in Hollister colors, which she agreed to do.
In mid-February 2010, however, she was informed that her hijab violated Abercrombie’s “Look Policy,” a company-wide dress code, and was told she would be taken off schedule unless she removed her headscarf while at work, according to the lawsuit.
Khan was fired on Feb. 23 for refusing to take off the hijab that her religious beliefs compelled her to wear, the lawsuit stated.
In an order issued Sept. 3, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers noted, “It is undisputed that Khan was terminated ‘for non-compliance with the company’s Look Policy.’ Khan’s only violation of the Look Policy was the headscarf.”
The court dismissed Abercrombie’s argument that “its Look Policy goes to the ‘very heart of [its] business model’ and thus any requested accommodation to deviate from the Look Policy threatens the company’s success, ” observing that “Abercrombie only offers unsubstantiated opinion testimony of its own employees to support its claim of undue hardship. The deposition testimony and declarations from Abercrombie witnesses demonstrate their personal beliefs, but are not linked to any credible evidence.”
EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said, “No one should have to choose between keeping their faith and keeping their job.
“The court sent a clear message that it was illegal to fire Ms. Khan solely for wearing her hijab, and U.S. District Courts are finding that Abercrombie cannot establish an undue hardship defense to the wearing of hijabs based on its 'Look Policy.' This is a clear victory for civil rights.”