Discrimination Suit Against Abercrombie & Fitch Makes Its Way to the Supreme Court
March 2, 2015
This is not the first time that Abercrombie & Fitch, American retailer founded in 1892, has found itself in court facing discrimination claims. A 2003 case, Gonzalez, et al. v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., et al., received major attention when a female and Latino, an African-American, and an Asian American alleged that Abercrombie did not hire them despite their exceptional qualifications for the positions. The plaintiffs alleged that Abercrombie & Fitch violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when they discriminated against the plaintiffs’ gender and race. Approximately two years later, the case settled in favor of the plaintiffs for nearly $50 million.
Following that suit, according to msnbc, “In 2013, Abercrombie settled two other cases of young Muslim women who were fired or not hired because they wore hijabs, and promised it would improve its religious accommodation policies.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (hereinafter EEOC) filed on behalf of one of the women, Halla Banafa, charging Abercrombie with religious discrimination after an Abercrombie manager asked an eighteen-year-old female during her interview at Abercrombie Kids whether she was Muslim and required to wear her headscarf. After her response, the manager allegedly marked “not Abercrombie look” on the interview form.
History repeated itself in a similar way on February 25, 2015 when the Supreme Court heard an employment discrimination case similar to the earlier cases against Abercrombie. The EEOC brought charges on behalf of a young woman against Abercrombie alleging that the American retailer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it failed to hire a young Muslim woman. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Samantha Elauf, who was seventeen when she interviewed with Abercrombie, claims Abercrombie & Fitch discriminated against her religion when they did not hire her to work as a sales model in their Tulsa, Oklahoma store. Like some of the plaintiffs in the past, Ms. Elauf said she was qualified for the position and that her 2008 interview with Abercrombie for the position went well. At the time of the interview, Abercrombie’s managers questioned whether Ms. Elauf’s black hijab, worn as a symbol of her Muslim faith, violated Abercrombie’s “Look Policy.” Abercrombie’s “Look Policy” prohibited employees from wearing caps and black clothing.
The federal court ruled in favor of Ms. Elauf; however, Abercrombie appealed. The 10th circuit court of appeals overturned the federal court decision. The court of appeals held that Ms. Elauf should have explicitly expressed that she might be in need of an accommodation. According to American Bazaar, Abercrombie changed its “Look Policy” since the 2013 settlements, but it is unclear whether this policy change will affect the current trial of Ms. Elauf.