Fired from Hollister for wearing the hijab?

A Muslim college student claims she was fired from a Bay Area branch of the clothing chain Hollister because the hijab she wears to cover her head violated the store's 'look policy.'

Frances M. Roberts/Newscom/File
A Muslim Bay Area college student says that she was fired from a Hollister clothing store for wearing a hijab. She filed a federal complaint charging religious discrimination.

A Muslim woman, apparently fired from teen clothier Hollister Co. for wearing the hijab, a religious headscarf, filed a federal complaint this week charging that she was wrongfully fired due to religious discrimination.

Hani Khan, a Bay Area college student, was let go from the clothing chain, which is owned by Abercrombie & Fitch, because her hijab violated the company’s “look policy,” according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which filed the complaint along with Ms. Khan.

CAIR said the termination violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to accommodate an employee's religious practices unless it creates “undue hardship.”

The hijab, which is worn by Muslim women around the world as a symbol of their Islamic faith, has been the center of controversy before. It has sparked protests in Europe over its place in society as Muslim populations there grow. While many US Muslim women say there is growing acceptance for the hijab, discrimination is not uncommon.

But the hijab debate that has erupted in the Bay Area involving Ms. Khan, who was a part-time stockroom employee, and Abercrombie & Fitch could shine a new light on religious discrimination at the corporate level.

“Ideally we would have liked to have resolved this and chalked it up to a mistake," says Zahra Billoo, program and outreach director for the Bay Area branch of CAIR. She says when CAIR was initially made aware of Khan's case, it sent a letter to corporate headquarters explaining Khan's religious rights. Often, she says, once employers understand the significance of the hijab, they will accommodate their employees. In this case, she says, the termination "seems like a high-level concerted decision."

So far, Abercrombie & Fitch has not issued a comment about the case.

This is not the first complaint against Abercrombie & Fitch that involves the hijab. In 2008, the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR filed a complaint against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after a Tulsa teenager was apparently refused employment because of her hijab.

In that case, the EEOC has filed a discrimination suit against Abercrombie & Fitch. In 2004, the EEOC charged the clothing chain with putting into place discriminatory hiring practices. The company, which operates more than 1,000 stores worldwide, settled the case for $50 million and agreed to change its policies.

In relation to the 2004 case, EEOC's general counsel said, "The retail industry and other industries need to know that businesses cannot discriminate against individuals under the auspice of a marketing strategy or a particular ‘look.' Race and sex discrimination in employment are unlawful, and the EEOC will continue to aggressively pursue employers who choose to engage in such practices."

According to the company’s website, Abercrombie & Fitch says “diversity and inclusion are key to our organization’s success. We are determined to have a diverse culture, throughout our organization, that benefits from the perspective of each individual.”

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