Teen at center of rights suit
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009
9/18/09 at 4:33 AM
A popular national chain of clothing stores is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for allegedly not hiring a Muslim Tulsa teenager because she wears a hijab, a religiously mandated head scarf.
The EEOC filed the lawsuit Wednesday against Abercrombie & Fitch in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, modified in 1991, as the basis for the action.
The suit says that Samantha Elauf, 17, applied in June 2008 for a sales job at the Abercrombie Kids store in Woodland Hills Mall.
A district manager allegedly told her that the hijab, which Elauf wears in observance of her 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.
Elauf went to the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma, which helped her file a complaint with the EEOC in Oklahoma City.
The Civil Rights Act protects people from discrimination based upon religion in hiring and in the terms of their employment, an EEOC press release says.
The law requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee unless doing so would create an "undue hardship" for the employer.
Michelle M. Robertson, a senior trial attorney for the EEOC, stated, "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."
The lawsuit was filed after the parties failed to reach a settlement, the release states.
Webster Smith, acting director of the EEOC's St. Louis district office, which handles the agency's litigation in Oklahoma, declared, "The EEOC is committed to eliminating religious discrimination in the workplace.
"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; institute policies, practices and programs to provide equal employment opportunities; and provide Elauf with "appropriate back pay with prejudgement interest" and punitive damages.
The EEOC accused Abercrombie & Fitch in 2004 of violating the Civil Rights Act 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 it agreed to pay $50 million and was enjoined from discriminating against job applicants based on race, color and national origin; discriminating against women because of gender; and denying promotional opportunities to women and minorities.
EEOC general counsel Eric Dreiband said at the time that the retail industry "needs to know that businesses cannot discriminate against individuals under the auspice of a marketing strategy or a particular 'look.' "
Ginnie Graham 581-8376