A Muslim woman who was fired from a Hollister clothing store for refusing to remove her religious headscarf, or hijab, filed a lawsuit Monday against her former employer, Abercrombie & Fitch.
Hani Khan, 20, of San Mateo, Calif., had worked at the store for four months before she was fired in February 2010. She had been told that wearing her hijab would be permitted, and would not conflict with the company “look policy,” if the scarf were in the company colors. But in February, company managers asked her to remove the hijab while she worked. When she refused, she was fired.
“When I was asked to remove my scarf after being hired with it on, I was demoralized and felt unwanted,” said Khan. “Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I have felt let down.”
After being fired, Khan filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which determined that Khan had been wrongfully fired.
Khan filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, citing religious discrimination and asserting that Hollister’s parent company, Abercrombie & Fitch, did not comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or with the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Khan is seeking to make it mandatory for Abercrombie & Fitch to allow employees to wear religious scarves, along with unspecified damages. The EEOC has also filed a lawsuit, coming after attempts at a settlement between the parties earlier this year failed.
Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the parties representing Khan, said, “When we first received Ms. Khan’s complaint, it was the explicitness of Abercrombie & Fitch’s discriminatory demands which concerned us. They were both egregious and illegal. For an employer to, point-blank, require an employee to relinquish their religious practice is a violation of our cherished civil rights laws.”
Araceli Martinez-Olguin, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, which is also representing Khan, said, ”Abercrombie & Fitch cannot hide behind a ‘Look Policy’ to justify violating Ms. Khan’s civil rights. Their refusal to accommodate her wearing her hijab is not only unlawful, but un-American.”
In a statement made to the Associated Press, Abercrombie & Fitch stood by its diversity, saying that diversity in its stores “far exceeds the diversity in the population of the United States.”
“We comply with the law regarding reasonable religious accommodation, and we will continue to do so,” said Rocky Robbins, Abercrombie & Fitch’s general counsel. “We are confident that when this matter is tried, a jury will find that we have fully complied with the law.”