Beliefs Ethics

Muslim clerk wins hijab fight against Abercrombie and Fitch

Abercrombie & Fitch store on Fifth Avenue in New York.
Abercrombie & Fitch store on Fifth Avenue

By Rob Young; cropped by Beyond My Ken (talk) 06:06, 3 August 2011 (UTC) ( [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Abercrombie & Fitch store on Fifth Avenue

(RNS) A federal judge ruled Monday (Sept. 9) that the Abercrombie and Fitch clothing chain violated federal anti-discrimination employment guidelines when it fired a Muslim employee in 2010 for not removing her religious headscarf, or hijab, for work.

Abercrombie asserted that as part of its business plan, it not only employed sales-floor personnel, but “models,” had a “look policy” that gave employees certain grooming and appearance guidelines, and sought to give customers an “in-store experience.”

Umme-Hani Khan wore her headscarf when she interviewed at Abercrombie’s store in San Mateo, Calif. Khan said she accepted the “look policy,” which included a no headgear provision, and in October 2009 started her new job, which was mainly in the stockroom, but required her one to four times per shift to restock clothes on the sales floor.

Local supervisors permitted Khan to wear headscarves, as long as they matched company colors, and never complained about Khan’s performance. But about four months into Khan’s employment, the store was visited by a district manager who noticed Khan’s headscarf. A human resources manager told Khan she could keep working at the story only if she stopped wearing her headscarf at work.

Khan was fired on Feb. 22, 2010 and filed her lawsuit with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on March 1.

“All Americans have a right to reasonable religious accommodation in the workplace, and for Muslim women this includes the right to wear a hijab to work,” said Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which filed the lawsuit.

In its defense, Abercrombie argued that it was exercising its right to commercial free speech, and that an employee who wore a headscarf could hurt the store’s business, even though the company could not produce any evidence of economic harm.

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote that while Abercrombie requires employees to “represent the brand,” it cannot demand they be a “living advertisement,” and as part of her judgment ordered the retailer to revise its policies to prevent discrimination.


About the author

Omar Sacirbey

Omar Sacirbey is a Boston-based correspondent for Religion News Service and other publications.


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  • No such thing as a private business anymore? She agreed to company rules, but when a superior in the company tried to enforce the company rules she agreed to, she went back on her agreement.

    What exactly is “reasonable”? I would guess something inconspicuous, not something you can see hundreds of feet away. Not that it matters, since she had already agreed to follow company rules.

  • In a 1979 consultation on the issue, the United States commission on civil rights defined religious discrimination in relation to the civil rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Whereas religious civil liberties, such as the right to hold or not to hold a religious belief, are essential for Freedom of Religion (in the United States secured by the First Amendment), religious discrimination occurs when someone is denied “the equal protection of the laws, equality of status under the law, equal treatment in the administration of justice, and equality of opportunity and access to employment, education, housing, public services and facilities, and public accommodation because of their exercise of their right to religious freedom.”[1]

    These women were not denied “equal protection of the laws.” These women were not denied “equal treatment in the administration of justice.” These women were not denied “equality of opportunity and access to employment” based on “a religious belief.” Nor were they denied “education, housing, public services and facilities, and public accommodation.”

    The employer, who is a property owner, gave these women each an individual choice: to follow their employers dress code, or look for employment elsewhere.

    The judge who ruled in this case should be tossed out for confusing a “religous belief” with a “religious act.”

    Anyone is free to believe anything they want. This should not grant them the right to act on those beliefs, on the private property of another. As an absurd example, I may believe that my relgion requires me to have sex with sheep on your front lawn, but that does not grant me the right to do so.

    Think about it.

  • From the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

    “SEC. 202. All persons shall be entitled to be free, at any establishment or place, from discrimination or segregation of any kind on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin, if such discrimination or segregation is or purports to be required by any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, rule, or order of a State or any agency or political subdivision thereof.”

    Note that it states … the discrimination or segreation in question, in order to be considered a violation of civil rights, “is or purports to be required by any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, rule, or order of a State or any agency or political subdivision thereof.”

    Abercrombie & Fitch is not a State, or a state agency, or a political subdivision thereof.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not disallow discrimination, based on company dess code policy.