Abercrombie & Fitch faces religious discrimination lawsuit over hijab ban

US fashion giant Abercrombie & Fitch are renowned for their raunchy ads, as the supersized billboard pictured here serves to indicate.A&F

Now sexiness and Islam, as we all know, don’t exactly blend. Which makes one wonder why on earth Samantha Elauf, a 19-year-old Muslim community college student from Tulsa, Oklahoma, would want to work for a company that shamelessly uses sex to peddle its wares.

Granted, the job she applied for was at a Tulsa Abercrombie Kids store where, we assume, sexiness is kept to a minimum.

Trouble, according to this report, began when Elauf wore a black hijab when she applied for the post. She later learned via a friend who worked in the store that the headscarf had cost her the job.

Elauf then went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has now filed a suit against the company on her behalf. Elauf is suing for back pay and compensation related to “emotional pain and anxiety”.

The suit alleges that Abercrombie

Refused to hire Ms. Elauf because she wears a hijab, claiming that the wearing of the headgear was prohibited by its Look Policy.

This means that Abercrombie

Failed to accommodate her religious beliefs by making an exception to the Look Policy. These actions constitute discrimination against Ms. Elauf on the basis of religion.

The EEOC alleges that during its investigation, Abercrombie & Fitch flatly told the agency, in a position statement, that
under ‘The Look Policy’, associates must wear clothing that is consistent with the Abercrombie brand, cannot wear hats or other coverings, and cannot wear clothes that are the colour black.

When contacted for a response, Abercrombie & Fitch issued the following statement:

We cannot comment on pending litigation. We have a strong equal-opportunity policy, and we accommodate religious beliefs and practices when possible. We are confident that the litigation of this matter will demonstrate that we have followed the law in every respect.

As for Elauf, she is under attorney’s orders to keep quiet about the case. But her grandfather, Ata Elauf, is clearly irked.

They put a wedge into her Americanism. She grew up here speaking the language, going to school. Why did they do this? She’s sort of confused.

33 responses to “Abercrombie & Fitch faces religious discrimination lawsuit over hijab ban”

  1. Gordon says:

    How can you discriminate against someone by making them follow the same rules as everyone else?

  2. dogon says:

    Why apply for a position that you know you will not be hired for due to your attire at the interview……then litigate?…..based on something you knew was going to occur.

    Are the US courts not busy enough without having to deal with cases such as this?

  3. Buffy says:

    Blah blah they wouldn't bend the rules for me because of my chosen religious lifestyle. I'm going to sue.

    Deal with it. The policy applies to everyone. It's high time people stop being granted special rights just because they believe in fairy tales.

  4. Har Davids says:

    Well, after this episode in her life, Samantha might consider a career in pole-dancing, if only to keep the EEOC busy.

  5. gsw says:

    A hairstylist was sued in London for failing to employ someone wearing a headscarf – on the basis that all her employees are walking advertisement for her salon. Surely, with such high unemployment, the employer can choose the best for the job.
    I worked a summer at M&S in London in the 70s, the clothing rules were extremely strict, on pain of being fired! Nobody sued, nobody failed to comply.
    I am going to apply for a job as neurosurgeon, and when they turn me down (as they must, I don't have the slightest qualification for such a job), I shall sue for gender discrimination.

  6. barriejohn says:

    Just supposing this stupid woman belonged to a religious sect that forbade manual labour between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Would her potential employers be expected to "make an exception" to their rules in order to "accomodate her religious beliefs" in that case? This whole idea of kowtowing to the demands of pernickety minorities, who are also "offended" when anyone looks at them the wrong way, is absolutely ridiculous!

  7. Rozi says:

    It is a bit like a vegetarian applying for a job in a butcher's.
    Hell, they wouldn't accomodate my goth look, why should they accommodate a religious belief?

  8. Angela_K says:

    Ms Elauf is just using the usual muzzie and other cults devious tactic so she bleat about persecution etc. The law and indeed employers dress code should apply equally and to everyone without exception, if she doesn't like it I'm sure she would be welcome in Saudi Arabia. People like Ms Elauf want to live in the west with our freedoms and technology but then drag us back to the stone-age.

  9. tomrees says:

    Come on, that's disingenuous. Imagine a rule that says all applicants have to be able to jump over a large barrel. And then claiming it doesn't discriminate against short people because you're applying it to everyone. Or a law against sleeping rough under bridges, and then claim that it doesn't discriminate against the poor because it applies equally to the rich.

    What we're talking about here is an institutional barrier. A&F didn't intend to discriminate against Muslims, but every time you have a corporate dress code you run the risk of a clash with some group or other that insists on particular dress as a marker of group membership.

    The real issue here is the right to wear badges that signify beliefs if they contravene dress codes. And more importantly, to what extent should we ensure that company dress codes allow people to wear badges that signify their beliefs.

    You might think that Islamic clothing requirements are stupid, and you might puzzle over why anyone with Islamic beliefs would want to work at A&F. But at the end of the day that's your point of view, and other people think differently. It comes down to a question of balancing rights of individual freedom versus corporate rights.

    Personally, I'm a little bit wary of championing the rights of corporations over individuals. OK it's Muslims now – and we don't like them so that's OK right? But who's next, eh?

  10. Brian Jordan says:

    I always hated wearing a tie, but had to. A friend got thrown out of school for refusing to wear a cap. Dress codes can be stupid or bad but if enforced it must be for everyone. Anyway, need she wear a headscarf? Don't they claim that "there is no compulsion in religion"?

  11. shargraves says:

    Utterly exploitative scum. while I find the fashion "world" revolting – as she was never employed there in the first place – why the hell should they give her a cent! It seems that being offended is now a modern day moneyspinner for those who live in the past.

  12. Kev says:

    As an employer I retain the right to dictate how my company is represented and this includes how my staff present themselves in their manner and appearance, that includes the way they dress. If you don't want to comply with my methods as an employee then don't apply for any position with my company.

  13. Patrick Clare says:

    People should be able to wear what they want in public as decency permits. (Some men dress like women and most women now seem to dress like men.)
    But employers should be indemnified against litigation from candidates wearing religious clothing who represent the company in public. If a store's or restaurant's or hotel's image does not include women in Islamic hoods, then the companies should be able to prefer employees who wear secular clothing. By the same token, banks or other high-risk places of business should be able to exclude persons whose faces are covered (either sex could be concealed under a burka).

    Religious outfits are a regressive intrusion of religion in modern secular societies and are justly resented.

  14. Meee says:

    I failed to get a job once because I was apparently intimidating to the customers. I'm a pretty big guy, close shaved hair, with a goatee.. and it was an upper class perfume shop whose main customers were little old women (don't ask why I applied there). I didn't sue, however, even though the criteria on which I failed were something I physically can not change (well, maybe the goatee).
    That said, I probably could've made a case against them if I really, really wanted to. But I found it more funny than anything.

    Slightly more on topic, I don't think "religious discrimination" will fly in this case. She's not being discriminated against because of her religion, she's being discriminated against because of something she has to wear for her religion. It's not the beliefs and/or the religion itself that caused the issue, it's just a company wide standard dress policy that her religion happens to infringe.

    If said policy was specifically against her religion, such as "no muslims", then she'd have grounds for a case. But it isn't and she doesn't. It'd be like a strict muslim applying to work at a pig slaughterhouse then complaining when they're asked to handle pork.

  15. William Harwood says:

    The reference to "something she has to wear for her religion" is misleading. Islam does not require women to wear headscarfs, just as Anointianity does not require addicts to wear anti-vampire charms. A woman who chooses to wear a headscarf is expressing a personal view, and a firm that refuses to employ women who wear headscarfs is not refusing to employ Muslims. The rule for religion should be, "don't ask; don't tell," and any person whose religion is immediately discernible from his/her grooming, clothing or ornamentation should be unemployable.
    An exception might be made for Sikhs, whose religion DOES require them to wear turbans.

  16. uzza says:

    "She’s sort of confused."

  17. GDalma says:

    I hereby found the church of nudism, and if anyone, including the muslim butcher denies me a job as a shop assistant working nude, I'm going to sue them.

  18. allrise says:

    The people opened a case on behalf of EEOC against Abercrombie, The charge: Denying the right to wear a hijab. Is Abercrombie Guilty or not? Join in and see what the pople think Community Court

  19. Gordon says:

    No, sorry it is not. Jobs have requirements. If the job involed racing through a barrel stren assault course I'd expect to be judged on my barrel jumping. If a job asks for experience I do not have then I cant cry when I dont get it.

    If a job asks me to dress a certain way… Well let's face it most jobs do. Whether it is a suit, a McDonalds uniform, or protective headgear and high visibility jackets the majority of jobs require a certain dress. And it is not as if the bank teller and the burger seller couldn't switch clothes and do their jobs equally well. It has no impact on their ability to work!

    But all of a sudden religion entes the picture and we are supposed to pretend that it is a good reason for the rules not to apply. How is that not a discriminatory practice against the other employees who will get sacked if they break the policy?

    This girl is looking for discrimination… in her favour. As is the NHS Crucifix nurse. And of course if or when they do not find complete acquiescence to their whims they are happy to put it down to religious intolerence. But everyone else should be subject to the rules.

  20. Lewis says:

    When Blockbuster bought out a local CD/Record store they fired everyon with visible tattoos because they violated their dress code. Sure, asshole move (and the Blockbuster Music stores dies a rapid death), but certainly within their rights. If you're going to work in a clothing store, you need to dress like you shop there, period.

  21. Elainek123 says:

    great idea. When can I join.

  22. barriejohn says:

    I don't think I would want to work naked in a butcher's, GDalma! Don't you remember the famous Donald McGill postcard where the (obligatory) fat lady is standing with her bottom in the path of the bacon slicer, while the grocer announces loudly: "We're getting a little behind with the bacon this week!" I see room for more accidents of that kind, I'm afraid ("I didn't ask for salami with that!!")

  23. barriejohn says:

    Absolutely correct, Dr H! Whenever they are criticised for their meek acquiescence in the wearing of this ridiculous garb, these Muslim women respond by stating that there is no obligation upon them to appear thus in public, but that it is their personal choice to "wear modest apparel." Either they are lying or they don't know their own minds!

  24. tomrees says:

    Nice try – but nudism in butchers is actually illegal. It's not a comparable case at all, if you think about it. What we're talking about here is clothing that's perfectly legal, but which corporate policy disallows for their customers.

    Aren't you just a bit concerned about giving unelected, unrepresentative people complete and arbitrary power to decide the dress codes of the the people they employ. And having to face the threat of unemployment if you don't like their dictates?

    Come on, doesn't that worry you even a teeny bit? Or has all this talk of nasty, selfish Muslims (boo, hiss!) scrambled everyone's brains?

  25. gsw says:

    Actually, I am waiting for the Playboy club to be sued for firing a "to-Islam-Converted" waitress who suddenly refuses to wear a bunny suit.
    IF the employer makes it plain that the firm has a strict dress code BEFORE I sign the contract and I still sign the contract, then I only have redress if I am NOT PAID.
    Hairdressers have been refusing jobs to people with badly kept/cut hair for YEARS.
    The place I have my hair cut demands that all employees wear jeans and a T-shirt.
    The medical staff here ALL wear uniform. Work a summer in a theme park!
    We ALL wore uniform in school, Pilots wear uniform, Soldiers wear uniform. etc. ad nauseum.
    It is only when policy is applied to a muslim that it is suddenly racist – although muslim is not even a race.

  26. tomrees says:

    Religion and race is murky. In theory they're not related but in practice they often are. I look at the people spouting hatred towards Muslims and often it looks like a PC form of racism.

    But never mind that. She was applying to work in an A&F kids store, not Playboy. I think the question still comes down to the extent we should work to accommodate people who have dumb ideas we don't agree with.

    Personally, I think freedom of individual expression is important. If that means putting restrictions on what corporations are allowed to ban then maybe that's OK. It's about getting the balance right.

  27. GNG says:

    Well said Gordon and more or less what I was about to say myself.

    I was driving along the motorway yesterday through roadworks and spotted three guys working at the side of the road (ok, one was working and the other two were watching but I think that counts as working for these guys). Two of them were wearing hard hats, and there is no way anyone can get away without them on sites these days…unless of course you're like the third guy – a sikh – wearing a turban. It's just plain wrong. If one of the other guys was to decide not to wear his hard hat, he'd be disciplined or possibly even face losing his job, but…if you have crazy dress code due to crazy beliefs – that's ok.

    As you said Gordon, this woman went out of her way to try to gain compensation, apparently even lookng for backpay for a job she never had and of course "compensation for emotional pain and anxiety”. I hope this company stands it's ground. She should look for a job that suits her.

    Godless not gormless

  28. barriejohn says:

    I agree with the point that you're making here, but I don't think even veiled (excuse the pun!) racism was involved in this case. It does look as if her dress was the problem. And I have to say that in my own view it is the converts that get my back up, not the "foreigners"! To a lot of women this sort of garb would be considered "traditional", and I respect their right to wear it, even if I disapprove of the message it sends out, but it's the fanatical converts to Islam who so often seem to be spoiling for a fight, just so they can cry "racism"!!

  29. Idris says:

    Buffy says "Deal with it. The policy applies to everyone. It's high time people stop being granted special rights just because they believe in fairy tales."
    or believe in flying horses in this case.

  30. tas says:

    are we not missing the point? the rules are against her religion, so surely rather than saying follow the rules or tough should we not say that the rules discriminate? same as if they forbade wearing of the cross. Its unfair to discriminate against people becaause of their religion, doesnt she have the right to follow her religion and work?

  31. KATHY =( ^-^ )= says:

    I hope Abercrombie beat this crap..I think they are always trying to push it. To start a problem. It’s their way of control. THEY love to cause trouble. Sorry but their women are oppressed,and I wonder WHY in the hell do they even come over to this coutry for “freedom” when they still act and dress like the slaves they still are.. Again this NUT is trying to stir up trouble like the rest of them. If this is supposed to be a melting pot then melt or LEAVE you ignorant enslaved females..

  32. Sarah says:

    “The rule for religion should be, “don’t ask; don’t tell,””
    Really? You want to have the same rule for religion that people have for homosexuals (a rule that I think any reasonable person should have a BIG problem with)??? This issue is not about discrimination–I agree the company did not intentionally discriminate against Muslims. This issue is about the standards we set in our society.
    Maybe she’s not required to wear a scarf, but it’s her personal religious belief. I don’t believe I should be banned from working somewhere because I have a tattoo, or facial piercings, or whatever. And if I could sue somebody for it, I would. If the world would be more tolerant of the way people choose to portray themselves, then this wouldn’t be an issue.
    employment services should be based on work ethic–not attire, not looks, not religion. By getting so angry about a girl that simply wanted to represent her religion while at work, you are doing the same thing that Christians do to atheists–judging and automatically closing your mind.

  33. Alex says:

    I think if you chose to go work or apply at a company that you clearly know fits a specific guideline, be ready to follow policy. This is the same as if you are required to lift 50 pounds, work overnights, be available on weekends, or even dress a certain way. What Abercrombie is asking is just a requirement to work there that is asked of everyone.

    If you are unwilling to adjust something that you know is needed to be able to fulfill a simple dress code policy then by all means apply else where. They are not forcing her to do anything. What would be wrong is to hire her knowing this is something she believes in and then saying she can not wear it. The right thing is to explain what is expected from the start and be honest…. which they did!

    People who think it does not matter about physical appearance when working in a retail environment are sadly mistaken. These companies build their brands based on image. Like it or not that is how it works and it is that simple. I could go apply for a job at Hot Topic at the mall and do you think they would hire a pretty, preppy, white, non goth/alternative style in their store? I am pretty sure you will never walk past one and find someone like that there so should I sue them.

    Get over yourself stop wasting tax payer money. Apply to work where you know you can follow policy and procedure with out compromising who you are.