Where do dress codes and religious accommodations meet?  

Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has agreed to change its controversial “Look Policy” after being on the receiving end of two high-profile lawsuits filed by Muslim women.

Here are the details of the two cases:

  1. Hani Khan had worked at a Hollister store (owned by Abercrombie & Fitch) in San Mateo, CA, for four months, and had been allowed to wear her Islamic head scarf (known as a hijab) in the workplace so long as it matched company colors.
    But when a district manager visited the store and saw Khan in her hijab for the first time, he called for her termination, saying the hijab violated the company’s “Look Policy” and detracted from the company brand.
  2. Halla Banafa wore a hijab to her interview at an Abercrombie & Fitch store.
    The manager asked Banafa, “You’re Muslim, right?”, making motions indicating the young woman’s hijab. Banafa replied that she was.
    Banafa was told that wearing her head scarf wouldn’t be a problem, and the manager gave Banafa a score of 7, a score high enough to recommend her for hire.
    But in the end, Banafa wasn’t hired, and the manager recorded that Banafa was not “Abercrombie look.”

Was it religious bias?

Both women went to the Equal Employment Opportuntiy Commission, which filed suits on their behalf.

A federal court ruled that failing to accommodate the women had been discriminatory and sent the cases to trial. Abercrombie & Fitch opted to settle, agreeing to pay a total of $71,000 to the women.

In addition to the settlement, the Council on American-Islamic Relations noted that Abercrombie & Fitch will:

  • create an appeals process for denials of religious accommodation requests
  • revise the “Look Policy” to expressly acknowledge that A&F is legally mandated to allow exceptions in certain circumstances
  • inform applicants during interviews that accommodations to the “Look Policy” may be available
  • provide employees with information about how to make religious accommodation requests
  • incorporate information regarding requests for headscarf accommodations into all manager training sessions
  • institute, at a minimum, quarterly reviews of all religious accommodation requests and decisions
  • post notices of the settlement and notifications of employees’ right to request ‘Look Policy’ accommodations, and
  • provide biannual reports to the EEOC and Khan for three years regarding implementation of these policy changes.

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Umme-Hani Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.

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