She Got the Look: Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch

On Monday, the EEOC supported Hani Khan by filing a federal lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch for violating her civil rights by discriminating against her on the basis of her religion. As a hijab-wearing teenager, Khan applied for a job with a Hollister Co. shop (owned by parent company A& F) in the San Mateo, California, Hillsdale Mall. The manager told her about the store’s “look policy”–which Khan describes as clothes that convey a fun, beachy vibe–and said at work she’d have to wear a head scarf in the company colors of white, navy or gray. As she explains in a recent CNN interview, Khan didn’t really think about A&F’s controversial history. She wanted to work with friends in what she considered a fun job environment. So she wore flip flops, jeans, t-shirts and made sure her head scarf was in the required colors.

Khan worked without incident in the store’s stock room, a job that required she occasionally go out on to the floor to replenish the supply of clothing.

But on Feb. 9 [2010], Khan said a district manager paid a visit to the store, which is owned by Abercrombie & Fitch, and that’s when her troubles began. Though Khan never met or spoke to the manager that day, she said she was aware of him looking at her. (AOL)

Days later via phone an A&F HR representative asked her to remove her hijab during work hours, and suspended her when she responded that she could not due to religious reasons. The suspension was followed by her being fired. This stunned Khan, 20, who grew up in Foster City, California, and says she’s been wearing a hijab for most of her life.

“I’ve worn the hijab since kindergarten,” Khan said. “Nobody has ever had a problem with it. Even after 9/11, teachers and neighbors have always been very supportive.” (AOL)

Though A & F now has a Diversity and Inclusion initiative, it doesn’t seem to have a great track record when it comes to lawsuits, including those that involve discrimination.

Abercrombie & Fitch have lost or settled several other lawsuits over their look policy. In 2009 the company agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a suit with California labor regulators over allegations it forced its employees to buy and wear its clothes while on the job. In 2004, the company agreed to pay $40 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that it promoted white employees at the expense of blacks, Hispanics and Asians. In 2009 a young British woman also sued the company, winning £136 basic compensation and £1,077 for loss of earnings after the company forced her to work in the stockroom because of her prosthetic arm. (KQED)

As KQED also notes, Khan is one of three women suing A&F for either not hiring, or firing women wearing headscarves. Samantha Elauf, a teen who was also supported by the EEOC in her suit, was not hired at an Abercrombie & Kids store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, because the company claimed that her simply wearing a head scarf would be in violation of its look policy. The details make it sound like Khan’s case was an example of someone with a hijab slipping through an illegal hiring policy due to location (SF Bay Area) or the local manager, until higher-ups in the company took a closer look.

Would you want to buy from a store that wouldn’t hire you? What difference, if any, might it make to a shopper’s experience if a hijab-wearing teen was re-stocking tees or ringing up your purchases at the cash register?

SM on A&F c. 2005: Abercrummy & Fitch settles

97 thoughts on “She Got the Look: Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch

  1. Hijab = Head Scarf, and it used to be common among Christian European women as well, especially the eastern orthodox women. It is not so alien to western sensibilities.

    What I think would be interesting to see is if Brahmins in the West can get away with going to work with caste marks on their forehead. ;)

  2. I don’t hear anyone hear condemning Christians with all their advocating of stoning in their Holy book.

    huh? sahar gave you some low hanging fruit. i don’t agree with her stance of not separating her own personal perspective from objective reality. but what does the reference with stoning in the bible have to do with christianity? it seems like a weak contentless rhetorical jab. a christian would say: 1) that was the old testament, and superseded by the new testament (i.e., spirit vs. law), 2) christianity is not an orthopraxic religion which has an explicit religious law. judaism, like islam, is. religious law in christianity is canon law and only applied to the church. the problem with islam is that some islamic states actually impose sharia which uses the classical methods such as stoning. and, some muslims even in the west will defend as legitimate, if not practical, some heterodox islamic views in relation to topics such as apostasy. the state of israel, which is the proper analogy, does not impose all the harsher penalities you find in leviticus and numbers. the reason you don’t here people condemning christians in regards to stoning in their holy book is that it is in their holy book. nobody cares what primitive people have in their holy book, all they care is what people do in the real world. more general. st. augustine argued that it was justifiable to convert pagans to christianity by coercion. but as a point of fact no christian majority state defends this view. in contrast, some muslim majority states do defend views by classical islamic jurists on the death penalty for apostasy. if you’re not going to grant this distinct, that’s fine, but there’s obviously nothing to talk about otherwise.

  3. Basically you are arguing that the only way Hani can be truly religious is to be a literalist.

    i agree that as a matter of fact people aren’t literalists (they rationalize to fit in to their milieu). but you do know that the majority of sunni muslims assert that they are literalists because they assert that the koran is the uncreated and eternal word of god? (this was the consensus that came out of the mu’tazili controversies) the koran is in this model simply a recitation of the words of god by gabriel to muhammad, who repeated those words to those who compiled the koran. also, the focus on the koran takes a wrong tack in trying to understanding the problem of confronting islamic orthopraxy in the world. it may be inspired by the koran, but what you need to look at are the islamic madh’habs, schools of law, and sharia. these are derived by the sunnah and the hadith as much as the koran, and some schools use methods like analogy. the proper analogy is not between the koran and the bible, but sharia and halakah.

    i do want to interject that i think all these details of religions are pretty irrelevant in my own opinion. but if you’re going to get “religion nerd” on everyone, get the structure of the issues right.

  4. “A & F is NOT discriminating based on religion. They’re discriminating based on clothing. In other words, they don’t care whether she’s Muslim or not, it’s whether she’s wearing a particular headscarf or not.”

    Not true. It’s a combination of her skin color, the scarf, and what that image represents. And while it may not be “discriminating on religion” it’s certainly discriminating on what those images represents (which includes assumptions made about people who practice islam). They’re not morbidly discriminating against headscarves, I think you’re being naive to somehow remove the religious component to the assumption making about the scarf being “against their image” or whatever BS argument they’re making.

    • “Not true. It’s a combination of her skin color, the scarf, and what that image represents. And while it may not be “discriminating on religion” it’s certainly discriminating on what those images represents (which includes assumptions made about people who practice islam).”

      If that is true, the implication is that A & F would have no problem hiring a white person who wore a yarmulke. We both know they wouldn’t allow that to happen. Again, if you say it’s more about what the “images represent” in the case of the yarmulke, you’re basically just trying to make your argument fit retrospectively. The fact that they wouldn’t allow a white person to wear a yarmulke just proves my point i.e. that they dont care if you’re white, black, east asian, south asian….they just care whether you put something on top of your head.

  5. I think you’re being naive to somehow remove the religious component to the assumption making about the scarf being “against their image” or whatever BS argument they’re making.

    i think you’re naive to believe that they wouldn’t be 100% onboard with a practicing muslim employee who comported with their douchey lascivious ethic :-)

  6. “believe that they wouldn’t be 100% onboard with a practicing muslim employee who comported with their douchey lascivious ethic”

    I don’t believe that.

    I just know their aversion to the scarf has to do with it being on the head of someone who’s dark skinned, claims she’s a muslim, and the connotations that has with “non-lascivious”-ness. Again, go back to what I said about the jewish beanie.

  7. “”believe that they wouldn’t be 100% onboard with a practicing muslim employee who comported with their douchey lascivious ethic”

    I don’t believe that. “

    You don’t “believe” that Muslim Americans have successfully worked at A&F before? Hah sorry to break it to you, but of course they have; several people on this thread have specifically mentioned they know people who have, and I’ll add that my older brother (who is an Afghani Muslim, just like Khan) was a cashier at A&F for his first job in high school – this was nearly 10 years ago, but I recall they had the same douchey image then…naturally the issue of hijab never came up then, but I recall he was asked to wear only A&F, down to the cologne, while working.

    Anyway to me this seems like yet another lawsuit filed by an angry attention-seeker hungry for media attention. It’s not worth yanking out the Quran and debating over. I expect next she’ll apply for a position at Hooter’s and cry foul when they ask her to wear the uniform. Does anyone seriously think if a White girl walked in wearing a du-rang, they wouldn’t ask her to take it off too?

    Whether or not the hijab is required is irrelevant in this argument. It’s a personal decision, because there is no Pope of Islam to decide and the Muslim community is diverse with varying beliefs. If Ms. Khan wants to wear her hijab, all the more power to her, but for godsake she must know perfectly well she wasn’t a victim of “racism” here. Also comparing this to the Civil Rights movement is a severe insult for folks who have fought for actual civil rights!

  8. “You don’t “believe” that Muslim Americans have successfully worked at A&F before?”

    No, I’m saying i don’t believe they WOULDNT be 100% on board with a muslim that conforms to their “lascivious” attitude. So, I’m agreeing with you. Please read carefully.

    I’m saying their aversion to the scarf is not completely disconnected to the scarf being a muslim piece of garb, the perception of what muslims represent in the US (militant, over-moral, backwards, whatever…), and her identification as the scarf being part of her muslim heritage/background (whether she’s right in that association is not relevant)

    The hooters argument doesn’t make sense because HOOTERS WOULD NEVER HIRE HER in the first place! That’s the whole point here, is she WAS HIRED for 4 months!

    There was a mismatch in management about A & F’s “image” , one manager thought it was loosening up, the other didn’t.

    • one thing that i have with this whole debate is that we’re having this huge argument about the nature of anti-discrimination law and islam. that’s fine. but this is really why think these laws need to be paired back at this point. the simplest thing to do is to change A & F through the power of the purse. frankly i don’t care about your own specific model of what was going on here; you don’t really know, you’re speculating like the rest of us. but the fact is that in the legal context they don’t have to go on more than this either. it’s kind of pathetic IMO that this is the end point of the logic of the civil rights act. though other people might find that it is a testament to the law’s power that we’re discussing whether you can work at a douchey company in a hijab.

  9. “the simplest thing to do is to change A & F through the power of the purse.”

    Exactly, and a lawsuit is just an extension of that principle.

  10. “the simplest thing to do is to change A & F through the power of the purse.”

    Sounds ok in theory, but in reality most A&F customers seem to be insecure tweens who pay no attention to who is suing the company, or why. I mean if you’re a 15 year old girl and 90% of your wardrobe is from A&F, because that’s what all your friends wear, and you hear some muslim chick is suing the company because she couldn’t dress like an Afghan to work, you’re probably not gonna care…

    I’m not saying there aren’t customers who will care, but I have a feeling that the types of folks who get offended at this are those who don’t shop at A&F to begin with….(this is not the first time the company has been accused of racism): http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/2003-06-17-abercrombie_x.htm

    • but those people who don’t shop at A&F probably do shop at American Apparel and the douchiness of the latter is off the charts.

  11. “If that is true, the implication is that A & F would have no problem hiring a white person who wore a yarmulke. We both know they wouldn’t allow that to happen.”

    Do we really know this for sure ? I’d be interested to see data points and facts over your statement of “we both know this wouldn’t happen” they obviously “allowed” a woman in a hijab to work there for 4 months.

    “they just care whether you put something on top of your head.”

    your evidence? (I’m a little demanding that way, interested in those pesky little things called facts)

  12. All this drama over a piece of cloth…

    A woman is oppressed by covering her hair…really?

    Can we please stop dictating how women should dress? If a woman wants to wear a hijab or a bikini, that her prerogative. Please don’t tell me that a woman is oppressed by her father/husband/brother/mother/grandparent by wearing a hijab. I wasn’t allowed to wear short shorts or tank tops when I was growing up. Believe me, I wasn’t oppressed. The hijab is the same thing. No one should force a woman to bear her knees or her shoulders, nor should anyone force a woman to bare her hair.

    If I worked at that slime shop called A&F, should they be allowed to force me to bare my shoulders? NO! By extension, they shouldn’t force this girl to bare her hair. A dress code is fine. Hijab (a piece of cloth!) should be part of, and included in, that dress code.

    (Why this girl would take a job at A&F is beyond me…)

    And yes…many hijabis are really really fashionable, and they make it look good! If you don’t think so, then you haven’t met enough hijabis.

    • And yes…many hijabis are really really fashionable, and they make it look good! If you don’t think so, then you haven’t met enough hijabis.

      Sorry if this is out of line…but why are hijabi’s concerned with being fashionable to begin with? As I understood it, the hijab is meant to cover up a woman’s beauty to outsiders, not to display it. I don’t understand the point of wearing a hijab if one is also going to use cosmetics and nail polish, or attention-grabbing trendy clothes.

      What confuses me most of all if when I see a woman wearing a hijab, but also clothing reveals either her arms of legs (or both). Maybe this is an American phenomenon…

  13. Hijabi as fashionable is some sort of affirmative action. If you need to ride the short-bus, so be it. But, seriously, it’s crazy. Go to Lahore and tell me hijabis are fashionable and not backward. That is worth a real LOL.

  14. I don’t know…I’ve met many hijabis who were completely covered, not wearing tight clothes, totally modest, but they looked good. Their outfits were sophisticated and classy. I guess this is just my opinion. But I don’t think a woman has reveal ANY part of her body to dress well and look nice. A woman can wear a niqab, and have killer eyes and look good…

    And I agree. I don’t get the tight jeans, short sleeve shirts, layers of make-up, and a hijab…but then again, I’m not one to judge (since aspects of my life are hypocritical as well), nor am I one to tell someone else how to dress.

  15. “What confuses me most of all if when I see a woman wearing a hijab, but also clothing reveals either her arms of legs”

    yea. I’ve wanked off to such people before.

  16. Whether you agree or not, the modern day society is very “look” conscious. Companies (especially clothing & cosmetics) try to market their product as “sexy” or “cool looking in a sexy way”. A woman wearing a hijab does not exactly fit that picture for most of the consumers in the USA. I am an atheist myself and completely respect other people’s choice of faith but wonder – if the hijab symbolizes modesty of women in Islam, why work for a company that symbolizes exact opposite of that? Is it convenience based faith?

  17. “A woman wearing a hijab does not exactly fit that picture for most of the consumers in the USA. I am an atheist myself and completely respect other people’s choice of faith but wonder – if the hijab symbolizes modesty of women in Islam, why work for a company that symbolizes exact opposite of that? Is it convenience based faith?”

    Missing the point.

    There’s really only these points that matter:

    -they let her work there for 4 months -they fired her, after asking her to remove her hijab, and she wouldn’t -in her mind, the hijab is a representation of her religion -Civil Rights law doesn’t allow discrimination based on religion

    hence, they broke the law.

  18. All this stuff about her being hypocritical, or working for a douchey company or her not being a true muslim and all that nonsense is secondary. You might even argue it’s arbitrary what comes under “religion” when it comes to discrimination, ie people making up religions and saying X, Y, and Z is against their religion. But the point is she WORKED THERE for 4 months, and all of a sudden A & F’s boundary shifted inwards. That’s their problem.

  19. @notReally:

    Civil Rights law doesn’t allow discrimination based on religion

    I agree 100%. I wasn’t arguing the point that what A&F did is right.

    I was just commenting from a different perspective.

    in her mind, the hijab is a representation of her religion

    And what does hijab really represent? – Modesty for women in Islam. My point is that when you take your religion that seriously and wear articles of clothing purely because they are a representation of your religion, I believe you hold the teachings/values of your religion very firmly. Why would you then associate yourself or seek employment with an entity that represents exact opposite of that (modesty for women)?

  20. “My point is that when you take your religion that seriously and wear articles of clothing purely because they are a representation of your religion, I believe you hold the teachings/values of your religion very firmly. Why would you then associate yourself or seek employment with an entity that represents exact opposite of that (modesty for women)?”

    who knows, maybe a host of reasons, but more importantly, who cares?

    Maybe she needed the money? Maybe it was just a temporary gig. Maybe she felt by working in the stock room and making a point about wearing her hijab, she was comfortable in her own religion, but understood that she lived in a different society one in which she might have to work for companies run by people who don’t see eye-to-eye with her on every issue.

    I happen to think this is a big issue with some muslims in general. I was at an ‘american’ wedding one of the bride’s maids was a hijabi. She wouldn’t shake anyone’s hands stating “religious reasons” One may ask. why go to social events, and live in a country where shaking hands is standard protocol for greeting, if her religion prohibits her from it? I dunno, it must be pretty tough, but she does it and still walks away from it all saying she’s “American”

    I’m not familiar with A & F here, I think they represent a little bit more than “immodesty for women” but the way you (and other people going on and on about the ‘hypocrisy’ of it all) describe it, I’d think it was the moonlite bunny ranch.

  21. Considering many Muslim women do not wear a hijab to work, can they claim that this is essential part of the religion?

    • Good point, Pravin. Also, I don’t see Hindu women suing A&F because A&F wouldn’t allow them to wear saris and/or bindhis. Bindhis, after all, is a very Hindu thing. You never see Muslims Christians , or Sikhs (although this is changing amongst the urbanites).

      I, personally, wouldn’t support a Hindu girl who would sue an A&F for firing her for wearing a bhindi, even though a bhindi is even more discrete than a hijab.