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EEOC Files Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Against Abercrombie & Fitch--Muslim Teen Denied Rights

September 23, 2009

As California Employment Lawyers, we have been following the religious discrimination lawsuit filed last week by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against popular clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.

The lawsuit, filed by the EEOC on behalf of 17-year old Samantha Elauf in Oklahoma Federal Court, claims that Abercrombie refused to hire the Muslim teenager, because of her religious beliefs and attire.

In June 2008, Elauf interviewed for a retail position at the Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Abercrombie allegedly discriminated against Elauf, by denying her the right to work in an Abercrombie store while wearing a religious headscarf. In observance of her religious beliefs, Elauf wears a Hijab, or headscarf, and was told in the job interview that her head covering would interfere with the company's "Look Policy."

The EEOC is citing violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which as amended, protects job applicants from employment discrimination based on religion.

EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Michelle M. Robertson stated that it is illegal in any aspect of employment for employers to treat workers or applicants differently based on religion. According to Robertson, employers must follow Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and, "reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the company."

The EEOC tried to resolve the suit informally, but is now seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit seeks compensatory damages that would amount to back pay if she had been hired. The suit also seeks a permanent injunction against the company, to stop discriminatory practices in the workplace. The amount for damages has not been disclosed, but ABC news reported that the cap for all damages against a company of Abercrombie & Fitch's size would be around $300,000.

Abercrombie & Fitch responded that they have a strong equal opportunity employment policy, accommodating religious beliefs and practices when possible, and that the company follows the law in every respect. According to the company website, Abercrombie & Fitch is committed to increasing diversity in the workplace, as well as supporting a "culture of inclusion," to better understand customers and represent the communities in which they do business.

The youth-oriented retailer has had legal trouble in the past with the same "Look Policy." In 2004, Abercrombie paid $50 million, settling a lawsuit filed by the EEOC accusing the retailer of promoting only white employees in the store fronts, advertising and promotional materials, instead of minorities. The store is known for promoting an east coast, ivy league, prep school fashion trend--cultivating a style based on the idea of privilege.

In September of 2008, another religious discrimination lawsuit was filed by Lakrettra Bennett, an assistant manager and recent Pentacostal convert, who asked if she could wear a skirt that covered her knees--thus obeying her religious beliefs. She was allegedly told that short skirts were the only acceptable attire.

Abercrombie & Fitch, Co. operates 1,131 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom--352 Abercrombie & Fitch stores, 213 Abercrombie stores, 521 Hollister stores, 29 RUEHL stores, and 16 Gillie Hicks stores.

Abercrombie & Fitch Sued By EEOC For Religious Discrimination Against Muslim Teen Applicant, EEOC Press Release, September 17, 2009

Lawsuit: Muslim Scarf Not Part of Abercrombie & Fitch 'Look', ABC News, September 18, 2009

Abercrombie & Fitch Discriminated Against US Muslim Teen, Lawsuit Claims, The Guardian, September 18, 2009

Teen Alleges Discrimination by Abercrombie & Fitch, Associated Press, September 18, 2009

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If you have suffered discrimination in your Orange County or Southern California workplace, contact Howard Law, PC today. Our Anaheim-based Labor and Employment Lawyers are dedicated to finding a solution that is right for your labor or employment issue. For a free consultation, call 1-800-872-5925.