Discrimination lawsuits cost organisation over $70k

by Cameron Edmond24 Sep 2013

International clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has lost its three year legal battle for refusing to allow an employee to wear her religious headscarf to work, violating US Federal and State civil rights laws.

The settlement has resulted in A&F changing its ‘look policy’ to allow for religious clothing to be worn, The Council of American-Islamic Relations reported.

"It has been a long three years, but the resolution we obtained made every step worth it," Hani Khan, the employee in question, said. "I am hopeful that my struggle and this victory will ensure that what happened to me at Abercrombie never happens to any other employees there. All Americans have the right to religious accommodation in the workplace, and we must challenge discrimination when it happens."

The case follows a number of other instances where A&F has discriminated against those wearing religious clothing under the guise of upholding their ‘look’.

According to a statement from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an 18-year-old job applicant was denied employment due to wearing a hijab to her job interview. The interviewer asked if she was Muslim and if she had to wear the head scarf, then wrote “not Abercrombie look” on her interview form.

“This was the first job I ever applied for, and I was excited about the idea of working for Abercrombie & Fitch … the interview crushed me because I never imagined anyone in the Bay Area would reject me because of my head scarf,” the applicant said.

A&F have had to pay Khan and the refused applicant over US$71,000 plus attorney fees, The Huffington Post reported.

The organisation has previously come under fire for forcing a British employee with a prosthetic arm to work in the store’s stock room because she did not fit the company ‘look’, News Ltd reported.

While A&F do not operate in Australia, some organisations may wish to review their hiring procedures and look-based policies in light of this slew of cases. While ‘appearance’ is only protected from discrimination in Victoria, anti-discrimination legislation protects religious beliefs across Australia.

The Fair Work Act 2009 states that a term of a modern award must not include terms that discriminate on the grounds of an employee’s religion. Australian employees are also protected against religious discrimination by the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986.


What do you think of the idea of a ‘look policy’? Are look policies always deplorable, or only when causing religious or other forms of discrimination?


  • by Anonymous 24/09/2013 4:48:52 PM

    Although I don't agree with discriminating against job seekers because of their religious background, I do understand that a company wants to have a certain look and I think it should be within their rights to be able to choose employees who fit the brand.
    Just as the individual should be able to wear a headscarf if she pleases, then the company should be able to hire someone who fits their needs.

  • by Anonymous 24/09/2013 5:42:13 PM

    I agree that no one should be made to feel 'less than' someone else because of their religious beliefs, however, if a business owner has certain requirements - which might include no facial tattoos or piercings, then the business owner has rights too. Setting a brand or a certain 'look' is a part of business management!!

  • by Grant 4/10/2013 10:19:40 AM

    I think we need to remember that when someone chooses to work for an employer the employer does not have the right to ask an employee to stop being themselves. Facial piercings, tattoos and jewellery are all legitimate ways for people to express themselves. If an employer wants to continue to be competitive they need to stop thinking they can control who their employees are.

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