Abercrombie loses yet another discrimination lawsuit

A federal judge rules the mall retailer wrongly fired a Muslim employee for wearing a hijab, for the second time in 3 years.

By Jason Notte Sep 10, 2013 1:56PM
A shopper leaves the Abercrombie & Fitch UK Flagship Store on Savile Row in London, England (© Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)If there's anything mall clothing store chain Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) hates more than wheelchair ramps, shades of black, women's sizes greater than 10 and unpopular kids, it's a religious garment that violates the store's "look policy." All that hate is eating up the chain's cash reserves.

For the second time in three years, Abercrombie has lost a court battle involving a case in which it fired a hijab-wearing Muslim worker for not conforming to its ideal vision for employee aesthetics. In the latest case, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled Monday that Abecrombie violated federal law when it fired Hani Khan from a Hollister store in San Mateo, Calif., in 2010 after she refused to take off her hijab.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Abercrombie on behalf of Khan in 2011, noting that the company had no problem with the garment when she wore it at a job interview and seemed just fine letting her wear it for the first four months she was employed there. The court will decide what the company owes Khan in September.

The loss should come as little surprise to Abercrombie & Fitch, whose lawyer was lambasted by Judge Yavonne Gonzalez Rogers in June for not presenting any documented evidence that Khan cost the company money by wearing her hijab to work. That same attorney, Mark Kneuve, also took the loss in 2011 when another hijab-wearing Abercrombie employee successfully sued the company for wrongful dismissal and collected $20,000 for her trouble.

In fairness to Abercrombie, it's absolutely terrible at picking its battles and fighting off discrimination claims after those battles are fought. In August, a federal judge in Denver ruled that its Hollister chain discriminated agaist customers in wheelchairs by making its front-porch-themed storefronts accessible only by stairs. The judge ruled the chain has until Jan. 1, 2017, to rebuild the entrances so they're wheelchair accessible, which requires upgrading storefronts at a rate of 77 per year, according to the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.

But all this exclusion is just status quo at Abercrombie, thanks largely to the idiosyncratic meddling of chief executive Michael Jeffries. The CEO once famously dictated that his clientele comprises solely "the cool kids." He also requires the staff of his private jet to wear only boxer briefs and flip-flops and to play Phil Collins' "Take Me Home" on all return flights.

This was all fairly standard in the early 2000s, when wearing an apparel company's logo across your chest or posterior like a human billboard was fashionable. Today, when teens are having a tough time finding mall jobs and have little disposable income to throw at stores that disdain them, Abercrombie is suffering. Profits dropped 33% last quarter from the same time a year ago. Overall sales dropped 8%, with Hollister sales alone falling 13%.

Exactly how discriminating against employees and customers helps bolster those sagging numbers is anybody's guess. If Abercrombie's culture keeps churning out courtroom results like this, that discriminating "look policy" might have to be revised to accommodate sheets of plywood and "out of business" signs.

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Sep 10, 2013 2:04PM

When you sign off on the rules and regulations in the employee handbook, do you not agree to abide by the rules of the company?


Sep 10, 2013 3:10PM
I've never owned anything A&F in my life but a store should be allowed to dictate what their employees do and do not wear. If a person doesn't like it, they  have every right to not work here. Is that girl going to apply to Hooters next and sue them too? Stupid. 
Sep 10, 2013 3:40PM

Maybe the owner should hire a better HR manager. If you dont want to see one of your employees wearing a hijab you dont hire them in the first place. You dont come out and tell them you cant hire them because of the hijab. You just say she lacks the retail experience they are looking for or something that cant be interpreted as disciminatory

Sep 10, 2013 2:05PM

IF a Muslim worked in a pork processing plant, could they not be fired for refusing to handle pork?

Sep 10, 2013 3:21PM
When my daughter worked there in high school they had a very specific list of their own current line of clothing that employees had to wear. She couldnt wear anything that was NOT the latest Abercrombie. So unless they start selling hajibs, she shouldnt have any more rights to wear her own clothes than the other kids who work there. Look, I hate A&F as much as everyone elde does, but this is a stupid case. It's like being a cop and refusing to wear a cop uniform.It's a requirement of the job.
Sep 10, 2013 2:29PM
What do companies not understand about us consumers not wanting them to be dicks to their employees? I have no problems paying more to get an item from a company that treats its employees and customers with compassion and fairness.
Sep 10, 2013 3:55PM
BULL SHIP,,,, you work here you work under our rules and if you don't like it find work  some place else,, it's that simple,, If I can't see your face I won't buy anything from you, simple
Sep 10, 2013 5:11PM
I will never again shop at any of their stores because of the way I was treated during a shopping trip when I went to buy something for my daughter for her birthday. I will state up front I am above a size 10. I walked in and a very snotty little bitch of an employee walked up to me and stated, we have nothing for you here, you are in the wrong store!!! I stated that I was here to purchase something for my daughter but that I would rather take my business elsewhere. Then her whole attitude changed and she was more than eager to make a sale. I told her no thank you, she called me a fat bitch as I walked out of the store! Such professionalism they require. I hope beyond all hope that the entire company goes belly up!~
Sep 10, 2013 3:07PM
I have a 15 year old that I will not take shopping to any of those stores.  She knows why and agrees with me.  There is No way I would put $ in the owners pocket. 
Sep 10, 2013 4:32PM
Never been in any of their stores and don't plan to.....ever!
Sep 10, 2013 4:24PM
I got a jacket from a friend as a gift, apparently she was cooler than me.  When I went to exchange it, the sales people were beyond rude, obviously I'm not their client base.    I left, and literally had to have my friend return it for me, they were nice to her.  Wow, end result, neither of us will shop there again.   They actually have a stuck up policy, I swear!
Sep 10, 2013 2:29PM
Wolphi, when a company has policies that violate the ADA or non-discrimination laws without proving that those policies serve a BFOQ (Bona Fide Occupational Qualification) it doesn't matter whether the employee signed them or not. In the case of Hani they did not demonstrate why requiring her to remove the hijab served a BFOQ, therefore they were in the wrong.
Sep 10, 2013 2:41PM
"teens...have little disposable income to throw at stores that disdain them" this made me laugh out loud. Well said, Jason Notte, well said.
Sep 10, 2013 4:44PM

Hey skeets, if you bothered to READ the article, she wore it to her job interview and for 4 MONTHS AFTER SHE WAS HIRED. THAT, makes it the companies problem, because if they didn't like what she was wearing at the interview, they didn't have to hire her.


As for being under company rules, CEOs and managers ARE NOT GODS. Their word is NOT law.


How would YOU like to go to work every day [I am assuming that YOU can keep a job] and be called nasty names, pinched on your butt or elsewhere, have the boss make sexual passes at YOU, and then being fired for wanting to be treated like a human being??  I DON'T THINK YOU'D LIKE IT MUCH.



Sep 10, 2013 4:36PM
The way A&F is going, they're going to be LESS popular than BOA in 6 months.
Sep 10, 2013 5:06PM

"The CEO once famously dictated that his clientele comprises solely "the cool kids." He also requires the staff of his private jet to wear and to play Phil Collins' "Take Me Home" on all return flights."


And yet they wonder why "the cool kids" aren't shopping there anymore....


Sep 10, 2013 5:42PM
The difference is that they are discriminating against a protected class. The hijab is a requirement of her religion and forcing her to remove it is discrimination. If she wore it to the interview, then it should've been addressed then as part of company policy........OR even in the first four months of employment. But afterwards, it is just discrimination.
Sep 10, 2013 4:28PM
10 years ago they were known, as for decades, super high quality jackets and such.   They were cool because they were GOOD, not because they tried to be cool!!!  Where they got all stuck up I don't know, their stuff is still high quality but why add the stuck up - I never shop there any more.
Sep 10, 2013 5:40PM
I can tell you I don't shop there, nor do I allow my 15 yr old son anywhere near the store, and he is "one of the cool kids". I have explained to him why it is not a store that should be supported and low and behold, he has a brain and agrees!! Silly store, they are cutting out the "cool kids" with any semblance of humanity in them right along with those they seek not to service!
Sep 10, 2013 5:16PM
another tidbit of nonsense from MSNBS
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