Suburban youth retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is facing a second complaint that its employment practices discriminate against Arab Americans. Just a few weeks ago the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming the retailer discriminated against a Muslim employee when they fired her after she refused to remove her hijab, or head scarf.
CAIR is one of the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization and filed the complaint on behalf of Umme-Hani Kahn, a 19 year old stockroom worker. When she was hired she was told she could wear her hijab. Local management put conditions on wearing the hijab to make sure it fit with the “look”. Those conditions were principally aesthetic and limited Kahn to certain colors but guaranteed her right to wear a hijab at work.
Her employment continued without incident until a district manager visited and told Kahn that the hijab didn’t fit the look and sent her home. When she returned to work the next day, she was ordered to remove her hijab. When she refused, claiming to do so would violate her religious beliefs, she was fired.
Just five months ago the EEOC had also filed suit against Abercrombie over a similar compliant. In that case a prospective employee was denied a sales job because her hijab violated the company’s “look” policy.
These kinds of allegations are nothing new for Abercrobie & Fitch. In 2004 the retailer reached a $50 million agreement with the EEOC to resolve racial discrimination claims over its hiring, recruiting, and marketing practices which promoted the “Abercrombie look”. That look predominately featured white men and women. As part of the consent decree Abercrombie agreed to hire diversity recruiters and to change its marketing materials so that they would reflect a more diverse “look”.
Despite consistent litigation against its discriminatory and myopic business practices, unfortunately not much has changed. My hope is that, litigation costs aside, businesses start to realize that these kinds of practices run contrary to their best financial interests and lose this insidious insistence that American consumers “look” white. There’s no reason to try and appeal to the morality of not discriminating against certain groups as our corporate culture has clearly shown it has no moral center at all. So let’s just make the business case for diversity and support those retailers who understand that American consumers are a diverse bunch and idealizing whiteness as an advertising strategy is as offensive as it is stupid.
Photo courtesy of Ranoush via Flickr