Clothier Abercrombie & Fitch, the 21st century’s equivalent of the old South’s Woolworth’s lunch counter, is being sued again by the EEOC.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the federal discrimination suit in San Francisco Monday, after efforts to reach a settlement with the retailer failed.
It’s the third time in less than two years that A&F has been sued by the EEOC. These cases all involve religious discrimination claims. However, the company has been sued in the past over other Civil Rights Act violations. In 2005 it settled a class-action that cost it some $50 million in compensation and compliance.
Suit involves Muslim women wearing headscarves
The most recent suits involve Muslim women who were either refused a job, or were allegedly fired, because their wearing of a headscarf required by their beliefs didn’t comply with the company’s dress code.
Monday’s suit involves 19-year-old Umme-Hani Khan who, despite wearing a headscarf, was hired to work at one of the firm’s stores in Northern California. She was asked to switch to a scarf in the brand colors of the Hollister store, where she was primarily assigned to stockroom duty. She did. But a few months later she was fired when she refused to remove her scarf after being ordered to by a district manager and an HR manager.
“Ms. Khan held a low-visibility position, willingly color-coordinated her headscarf with the store’s brand and capably performed her stockroom duties for four and half months until a visiting manager flagged her hijab as a violation of their ‘look policy’,” said EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado. “What undue burden did this retail giant face that prevented them from allowing her to practice her faith? Moreover, what kind of statement of intolerance are they sending to their teen customers?”
Other lawsuits over the same issue
The San Francisco office filed a similar type of suit last September, claiming that another of the company’s Bay Area stores refused to hire another teenager because of her headscarf. According to the EEOC, the girl was asked by the manager at an Abercrombie Kids store if her religious beliefs required the headscarf. When she said yes, her application was rejected with the notation ““not Abercrombie look.”
A nearly identical case out of Tulsa, Okla. was filed in September 2009 by the EEOC, which alleged that an Abercrombie Kids store there rejected a female teenager because of her headscarf. That case is scheduled for trial next month.
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In 2004, A&F settled an EEOC suit and class action brought by women and minorities who were denied promotions or not hired because they didn’t fit the “look” the company was promoting. Although it didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, the settlement required it to pay $40 million to the class members, institute an aggressive diversity hiring program that included bringing on 25 diversity recruiters, and to be monitored for compliance for up to six years.
The company did not return a call asking for comment, but it’s general counsel did talk to the Associated Press.
“We comply with the law regarding reasonable religious accommodation, and we will continue to do so,” said Rocky Robbins. “We are confident that when this matter is tried, a jury will find that we have fully complied with the law.”
The company has also been accused of using soft core porn to sell its clothing, and, most recently, has been criticized for selling a line of padded bikinis for children.