[UPDATED with "Victim" Speaking:] Muslim Worker Told to Remove Hijab Sues Abercrombie & Fitch
"When I was asked to remove my scarf after being hired with it on, I was demoralized and felt unwanted," Hani Khan said at the the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center in San Francisco. "Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I have felt let down."
It was alleged at the press conference that when Khan was initially hired in October 2009, she was told her hijab would not be in conflict with the company's "look policy" so long as she wore it in company colors. Despite complying with the request, in February 2010 a district manager and corporate human resources manager are accused of asking her to remove her hijab while working.
Khan was suspended and then terminated when she refused to comply with the request, and asserted her right to religious accommodation, according to the complaint. She filed a complaint with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which in September issued a determination that Khan was wrongfully terminated. Negotiations aimed at a settlement broke off in January.
"When we first received Ms. Khan's complaint, it was the explicitness of Abercrombie & Fitch's discriminatory demands which concerned us," Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR's Bay Area office, said today. "They were both egregious and illegal. For an employer to, point-blank, require an employee to relinquish their religious practice is a violation of our cherished civil rights laws."
Added Araceli Martinez-Olguin, staff attorney with the legal aid group, "Abercrombie & Fitch cannot hide behind a 'Look Policy' to justify violating Ms. Khan's civil rights. Their refusal to accommodate her wearing her hijab is not only unlawful, but un-American."
Speaking of un-American, since taking on the Abercrombie & Fitch policy, Kahn has reportedly received death threats.
Her suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an order to bring Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch into compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it unlawful to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion, including "all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief." The clothing retailer must also comply with the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, according to the complaint, which you can download here.
Abercrombie & Fitch has not yet reacted to the lawsuit, but the Albany, Ohio-based company previously said Khan's hijab was not a part of their "All-American look" policy, something the EEOC and the ex-worker's suit seek to abolish. Federal civil rights cases have previously been opened against Abercrombie & Fitch for its orders that Muslim women remove their headscarves in Milpitas, California, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Well, move over, OC: San Mateo is cutting in on the action.
The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center are holding a news conference in San Francisco this morning to announce a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch.
An unidentified Muslim woman, who is set to join her lawyers at the 10 a.m. press event, worked in the stockroom at a Hollister Co. store in the Hillsdale mall in San Mateo for several months in 2009-2010 before being fired--according to the complaint--for failing to remove her hijab. Though she wore the head scarf based on a religious mandate, she was allegedly told it was not in compliance with the company's "look policy." Hollister is a brand of Abercrombie & Fitch.
The woman's suit is being filed in conjunction with one filed against Abercrombie & Fitch by the San Francisco District Office of the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.