CAIRO – An American Muslim woman, who was fired for refusing to remove her hijab, filed a lawsuit in a US court against a fashion mogul, accusing it of violating her religious freedoms, San Francisco Chronicle reported on Tuesday, June 28.
The experience with Abercrombie “shook my confidence. I didn't have that problem before,” Hani Khan of San Mateo, California, told a news conference.
Donning hijab from young age, Khan said it posed no problems for her among tolerant American neighbors and friends in Foster City.
“After 9/11, all my neighbors, all my classmates, all my teachers - they supported me,” Khan, wearing a bright purple hijab, said.
“No one had an issue then. For there to be an issue now, it was just completely out of the ordinary.”
Hired for work at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in California in October 2009, store managers told her that her hijab would not be in conflict with Abercrombie's “look policy,” as long as she wore it in company colors.
Yet, her dilemma started when a district manager visited the store followed by a request by a company official to stop wearing the hijab.
She refused and was suspended, and a week later was fired.
“When I was asked to remove my scarf after being hired with it on, I was demoralized and felt unwanted,” Khan said.
“Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I have felt let down.”
After being fired, Khan complained to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which ruled in September 2010 that she had been the victim of discrimination.
She filed the lawsuit at the US District Court for the Northern District of California against Abercrombie & Fitch after failing to reach a mediation agreement with them.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff, Khan, is represented by the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA) and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC).
The suit was filed in conjunction with a lawsuit filed by the San Francisco District Office of the EEOC, on the same charges.
Having a history of cases against veiled women, the suit tries to force Abercrombie to change its dress code to loosen restrictions on religious clothing.
“Abercrombie & Fitch cannot hide behind a 'Look Policy' to justify violating Ms. Khan's civil rights,” said Araceli Martinez-Olguin, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, which is representing Khan.
“Abercrombie prides itself on requiring what it calls 'a natural, classic American style,'” he added.
“But there is nothing American about discriminating against someone because of their religion.”
The youth-oriented clothing retailer, notorious for ads featuring scantily clad young models, has repeatedly faced legal trouble because of its “Look Policy”, which it considers important for to its market image.
In September 2009, US authorities sued the company for discriminating against a Muslim woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who alleged that a store had refused to hire her because of her head scarf.
In a similar case in 2008, a Muslim woman said a manager at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in Milpitas, California, had written “not Abercrombie look” on her interview form and refused to hire her after she applied for a job.
Last year, US authorities sued the company for discrimination over the incident.
Abercrombie did not comment on Khan's case or its dress code.
“We are committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all individuals regardless of religion, race or ethnicity. ... We comply with the law regarding reasonable religious accommodation,” it said in a statement.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
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