Lawsuit filed against clothing store over alleged religious discrimination
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009
A popular national clothing store is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for allegedly not hiring a Muslim Tulsa teenager because she wears a hijab, or religiously mandated head scarf.
The EEOC filed a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1991 as the basis for the action.
In June 2008, 17-year-old Samantha Elauf applied to work in a sales position at the Abercrombie Kids store located in Woodland Hills Mall, the lawsuit states.
A district manager allegedly told her that the hijab, worn in observance of religious beliefs, did not fit the store’s image.
“Defendant refused to hire Ms. Elauf because she wears a hijab, claiming that the wearing of headgear was prohibited by its Look Policy, and, further, failed to accommodate her religious beliefs by making an exception to the Look Policy,” the lawsuit states.
The girl took her case to the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma, which helped her file a complaint with the EEOC Oklahoma City.
The Civil Rights Act protects workers from discrimination based upon religion in hiring and in the terms of their employment, according to an EEOC press release. The law requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee unless doing so would create an “undue hardship” for the employer.
“It is unlawful for employers to treat applicants or workers differently based on their religious beliefs or practices in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring and job assignments,” stated EEOC senior trial attorney Michelle M. Robertson.
The lawsuit was filed after the parties failed to reach a voluntary settlement, the release states.
“The EEOC is committed to eliminating religious discrimination in the workplace,” stated Webster Smith, acting director of the EEOC’s St. Louis district office, which is responsible for the agency’s litigation in Oklahoma.
“As religious diversity increases in the workplace, companies need to be more vigilant in respecting and balancing employees’ needs to practice their religion, including engaging in religious expression.”
The lawsuit asks the company to stop religious discrimination in its hiring practices; institute policies, practices and programs to provide equal employment opportunities and provide Elauf with “appropriate back pay with prejudgement interest” and punitive damages.
In 2004, Abercrombie & Fitch was accused by the EEOC of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adopting a restrictive marketing image that limited the hiring of minorities, who did not conform to the image.
The company reached a settlement with the EEOC and private parties in which they agreed to pay $50 million, and were enjoined from discriminating against job applicants based on race, color and national origin; discriminating against women due to sex; and denying promotional opportunities to women and minorities.
At that time, EEOC General Counsel Eric Dreiband said the retail industry “needs to know that businesses cannot discriminate against individuals under the auspice of a marketing strategy or a particular ‘look.’ ”