Abercrombie & Fitch Settles Hijab Suits, Revises 'Look' Policy

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on September 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Anyone familiar with Abercrombie & Fitch knows its branding; the ubiquitous black-and-white photos of the semi-naked, "attractive all-American kid" are in all of its stores and advertising.

Well, no matter how much a company spends to build and maintain a "look," it does not matter (for the most part) when religious accommodation is concerned. Abercrombie has learned this the hard way.

Abercrombie has seen its share of controversy -- whether it's cultural or sexual insensitivity, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The latest controversy involves Abercrombie's treatment of Muslim women in its workforce.

Abercrombie Says Head Scarf Is Against 'Look Policy'

In two separate cases in the San Francisco Bay Area, Abercrombie refused to hire a woman who wore a head scarf, and its subsidiary Hollister fired a woman who worked there without incident for four months after she refused to remove her headscarf. In both instances, Abercrombie felt that wearing the hijab (head scarf) was in contravention of the Abercrombie & Fitch "Look Policy," the Associated Press reports.

In the first case regarding Halla Banafa, the district court "dismissed Abercrombie's undue-hardship claims on summary judgment, citing the 'dearth of proof' linking store performance or the Abercrombie brand image to 'Look Policy' compliance," according to an EEOC press release. In the second case, the district court granted the EEOC's request for summary judgment on Umme-Hani Khan's Title VII and California Fair Employment and Housing Act claims.

The courts were not buying Abercrombie's "undue burden" and freedom of speech arguments, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations ("CAIR").

The Abercrombie & Fitch Head Scarf Settlement

Earlier this month, the parties agreed to consolidate the cases and settlement into one stipulated judgment and decree, reports CAIR. As part of the settlement, Halla Banafa will receive $23,000, and Umme-Hani Khan will receive $48,000. In addition, Abercrombie must make changes to its internal policies and procedures including:

  • A revised accommodation policy which includes an appeal process;
  • Adding the revised policy to the employee handbook;
  • Employee training guidelines;
  • A review process of the "Look Policy" religious accommodation request; and
  • Reporting requirements.

Consider Revising Your Company's Policies

These cases make clear that a company has a very high burden to meet if it will not make reasonable accommodations for an employee's religious beliefs. Even where a company has a particular brand or look in mind, that is not sufficient to discriminate on the basis of religion. Review your company's hiring and employment policies and procedures to make sure that discrimination is not happening in the name of "branding."

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