Muslims Don’t Fit the Abercrombie Look

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


alida a. g.
alida cann6 years ago

I Totally agree with Lindsey DTSW above. Thank you for your intelligent, straighforward comment.

Beng Kiat Low
low beng kiat6 years ago


HoneyBee GreenBee

It's a touchy area because it's an item that is worn for religious reasons, however since she was told when she was hired that it was OK to wear, then she has a valid suit against her employer.

Ann K.
Ann K.6 years ago

its amazing how much controversy a little bit of cloth causes.

Laura M.
Laura M.6 years ago

Last time I recalled, this store isn't a "professional" place. It does not ask all workers to wear a uniform...from what I understand. And even so, uniforms usually consist of a shirt and pants/or skirt and sometimes a hat in fast-food places.

Regardless, corporations have become really influential. In a way, they are another "institution", and if someone actually wants to make a living, you have to work for one. Agreed? Now please don't start giving little exceptions because I'm talking about in general. Nobody can tell me that a majority of americans can live (in a place with basic needs like shelter, food and water) without having to be employed by corporations (and government jobs are fairly small in numbers).

That being said, it is really unfair to say that this woman should "go somewhere else" where they allow headscarfs. Where is that? Because I there aren't many jobs that truthfully will employ someone regardless of whether they wear one or not.

And I'm tired of people saying "go back to where you came from" or "go to a country where they allow it". Such hypocrites. EVERYONE except Indigenous people are immigrants. They should take their own advice and go to Europe, and live with the countries that don't allow burkas and hijabs like France. Because this isn't you're "home land". It is Indigenous people's land.

E. A.
E A.6 years ago

Many are assuming she's an immigrant and wasn't born in the U.S.The article doesn't mention this either way.

Yes. Lindsey we get it but its more about the companies ethical integrity and the violation of Umm's civil liberties in the work place and not the private sector.
If she hadn't gone through the scrutiny of being hired in the first place then there would be nothing to write about. So are you suggesting we have no civil rights in the workplace? Hire n fire without just cause.It doesn't stipulate she was a bad stockroom employee.Thats entirely different.

Lindsey DTSW
.6 years ago

Perhaps I can say it more clearly:

I fully support the right of this lady, in public, to wear a headscarf, a fencing mask, or a tinfoil hat. Her right to wear whatever she wants. On the street. In her home. On the local playground. At the beach. Her right.

Except when she is being paid by another to do a job. When the employer believes that a certain form of dress does not contribute to achieving sales or promoting the business. Then it is no longer her right. At that point she needs to remove the tinfoil hat or the fencing mask. Or the headscarf. Or find another form of employment. Because her rights have just conflicted with her employer's rights.

Lindsey DTSW
.6 years ago

Comparing the public sector to the private sector is invalid.

I have, for example, a legal right to wear jeans on a public street. And should have. Because by wearing jeans I do not violate the rights of others. However, I do not have a right to wear jeans in my office. Because my boss controls what I wear in that sector. And rightfully so. He who pays the piper calls the tune, after all.

Just as any individual should have the right of free speech in the public realm. However, once they enter my apartment, their right to free speech ends. Because it is my home and if I decide I do not like their speech they will be ejected. And, of course, I can do that quite legally.

Laura M.
Laura M.6 years ago

Lindsey, I can tell you will not let the religious/cultural thing go.

But lets put it this way. We DO live in a western world with freedoms right? One where you are given CHOICES, something you do not have in other countries. By not allowing women to wear something...isn't that just another form of oppression? If someone said that women are by law or some policy in a company, told that they cannot wear high-heels because it is degrading to women and oppressive, would you support this? What if they said that by law, women are not allowed to wear make-up, because it is oppressive towards women, would you support this?

My point is that although we may not agree with their practice of wearing it, as a country with freedoms, we should allow people to wear whatever they want. I don't like it when I see women with so much foundation I can't even see their faces, or when women wear little short-shorts, but it's their choice, and I would never support 'banning' these things. Like I said earlier, I think it is their choice, and I have no right to judge because I have never lived in any of these countries or learned a lot about Muslim, except that Islam stand for peace.

Maybe this is one thing we can agree on...

Lindsey O.
.6 years ago

Abdul, I have no idea whether this particular woman is under any pressure to conform to conservative Islamic ideals by wearing a headscarf or if she's doing it purely voluntarily.

But do you really believe that just by virtue of living in a Western society people automatically reject the beliefs and traditions of the societies from which they or their recent ancestors came? Of course they don't. If, for example, I moved to Saudi, although I would have to adhere to the laws of that country neither I, nor any children I might have (who would be raised with my Western values, of course), would change our basic outlook on life regarding dress, freedom of speech, women's rights, etc. And those who relocate to Western nations from fundamentalist Islamic cultures are hardly likely to quickly change their way of life. Including the practice of men having authority over the women in their family.

If simply living in Western societies caused such a radical change in outlook, we wouldn't hear calls from some Muslims in Britain or Canada or elsewhere for Sharia courts.