California Religious Discrimination Case Won By Muslim Plaintiff

A Muslim woman’s right to don her religious hair covering at work trumps a clothing store company’s effort to maintain an “All-American” image, a federal court in northern California recently ruled. clothingstore

In Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., Case No. 11-cv-03162-YGR, U.S. District Court of Northern California, a federal judge granted the plaintiff’s motion for a partial summary judgment in the case wherein religious discrimination had been alleged.

The plaintiff had been represented by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A separate hearing has been set to determine the exact amount of monetary damages to be awarded.

The Abercrombie brand is notorious for maintaining a controversial “Look Policy,” which includes hiring “models” to work on the sales floor. It also provides workers with grooming guidelines that they must meet while at work. The guidelines include their overall appearance, as well as the clothing they are expected to wear. While they don’t have to wear all Abercrombie clothing, they are expected to wear clothes similar to what one might find in those stores.

Three years ago, the “Look Policy” prohibited workers from donning any type of head wear.

It was at this time that the plaintiff, a young, devout Muslim woman, was hired to work at an Abercrombie store. According to her religion, she ascribes to the belief that women must be modest in their attire and that a head scarf, known as the hijab, is an extension of that when she is in public or int he presence of males who are non-family.

She wore her headscarf during the interview with the company for an opening at a Hollister store (an Abercrombie offshoot) in San Mateo. She was apprised of the firm’s “Look Policy” and agreed to abide by it.

Most of her duties were fulfilled in the stock room, though she was at times responsible to be on the sales floor. During her employment, from fall of 2009 through winter 2010, she were her headscarf, long-sleeved shirts and jeans – the latter two purchased at Hollister. Local supervisors had granted her permission to wear the scarf, so long as it matched the company’s colors.

Then in February 2010, a district manager visited the store during and noticed that the plaintiff was not in compliance with the company’s “Look Policy.” He didn’t realize she had been working there for several months, but he contacted the firm’s human resources department regarding how to proceed.

In turn, the human resources worker contacted the plaintiff directly to discuss the matter. The HR employee informed the plaintiff she was in violation of company policy with her headscarf. She was asked to remove it, but the worker refused, saying it was against her religion to do so.

Following an internal investigation, the store fired the plaintiff on the grounds that she had refused to remove the scarf. Less than two weeks later, they offered her the job back, saying they had reconsidered and she could in fact wear her scarf to work. She declined the offer.

She subsequently filed a discrimination claim against the company. The EEOC had two other pending cases against the same company for reportedly firing workers who refused to remove their hijabs during work hours.

The EEOC had agreed to settle the cases, on the condition that the company agree to adopt a policy allowing all workers to wear a headscarf for religious purposes in the future. However, the company rejected this, as they wished to be able to consider each instance on a case-by-case basis.

In the end, the case went before a judge who decided that there was no dispute: The plaintiffs had been discriminated against and wrongfully terminated on the basis of their religion. Specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars employers from failing or refusing to hire or firing any person on the basis of his or her religion.

Costa Mesa employment lawsuits can be filed with the help of the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.

Additional Resources:

Hani Khan, Ex-Abercrombie Employee, Scores Legal Win After Being Fired for Wearing Hijab, Sept. 9, 2013, By Kim Bhasin, The Huffington Post

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