Abercrombie & Fitch’s “Look Policy” Does not Justify Religious Discrimination

Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) is no stranger to litigation arising from its hiring and personnel practices. In 2005, it settled a class action lawsuit for discrimination based on its failure to hire women and minorities. Since then, it has frequently come under attack for refusing to hire employees who do not represent its brand ideal (young, fit, pretty/handsome). Last week, a judge found A&F liable for religious discrimination arising from the termination of a Muslim employee who refused to work without a headscarf. The employee, who worked in the stockroom, was originally asked to wear headscarves in particular colors, but was later told that wearing any headscarf violated A&F’s dress code, aka, the “Look Policy.” The employee was told she would not be scheduled to work unless she removed her headscarf while at work.

The EEOC sued A&F and won. The Court found that A&F should have accommodated the employee’s request to wear a headscarf and rejected A&F’s claim that such an accommodation, which permitted the employee to deviate from the “Look Policy,” threatened A&F’s success. http://eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-9-13.cfm

Fundamentally, no matter how you want your employees to look, you need to carefully consider whether an employee request to look differently because of their religion is an undue hardship, and be prepared to prove it if challenged.

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