Abercrombie & Fitch sued over Muslim headscarf

A federal civil rights agency sued Abercrombie & Fitch on Wednesday on behalf of an 18-year-old woman who said she applied for her first job at the company’s store at the Great Mall in Milpitas and was turned down because she wore a Muslim headscarf.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission went to court against Abercrombie & Fitch last year over a similar incident in Tulsa, Okla. In Wednesday’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the agency again accused the Ohio company of discriminating on the basis of religion.

“This retailer that targets a youth market is sending the message that you cannot aspire to their ‘All American’ brand if you wear a head covering to comply with your faith,” said William Tamayo, the agency’s regional attorney.

Company representatives could not be reached for comment. In court filings in the Oklahoma case, which is pending, lawyers for Abercrombie & Fitch denied discriminating and said allowing the employee to wear a hijab, or headscarf, “would have created an undue hardship” for the company’s business.

Federal law requires employers to accommodate their workers’ religious practices unless they would cause an undue hardship. Abercrombie & Fitch’s employee dress code bans head coverings.

The federal agency said the Milpitas teenager, who was not identified, applied in March 2008 for a job stocking merchandise at the Abercrombie Kids store. She said she wore a colorful hijab that matched her outfit. The manager asked her if she was Muslim, then marked “not Abercrombie look” on her interview form, the agency said.

“The interview crushed me, because I never imagined anyone in the Bay Area would reject me because of my headscarf,” the applicant said in a statement released by the civil rights agency. “They didn’t just miss out on a hard worker. They lost a customer.”

San Francisco Chronicle, 2 September 2010

See also EEOC press release, 1 September 2010