Abercrombie’s look policy has consistently come back to bite the retailer in the rear, thanks to the strict requirements it puts on its employees. Seven years ago, a young Muslim applicant, Samantha Elauf from Tulsa, was denied a job because she wears a hijab, so she took Abercrombie to court saying the company didn’t hire her because of her religion.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will have to decide whether Abercrombie’s actions infringed on Elauf’s religious rights or if the failure to hire her is just the retailer sticking to a company look policy. This is not the first time the retailer has come under fire over its treatment of employees who wear the hijab. In 2010, Meni Khan sued the company for firing her after she declined to remove her hijab for work. Abercrombie argued that the look policy is the foundation of its brand, insinuating that allowing anyone to go outside those rules creates “undue hardship” for the retailer.
This “undue hardship” clause is what could win Abercrombie this case, if the company can prove that allowing Elauf to work with her hijab on would create a situation for the retailer. The retailer also says that when it interviewed Elauf for the job, she made no mention that she wore her headscarf for religious purposes. It claims to have thought she was wearing a headscarf for other reasons. In the cases leading up to this, one federal judge ruled in favor of Elauf, while the other ruled against in appeals, saying she should have informed the company that she was wearing the hijab because of her faith.
Now it’s up to the highest court in the land to decide. Was it Elauf’s responsibility to specify the reason for her headscarf, or should Abercrombie have just known? While Abercrombie could have a convincing case, we wonder how “undue” or “hard” it is really to allow employees to wear something as simple as a headscarf? What damage is that doing to the image of the company? Indeed, some may argue that allowing this young woman to work would be a good look for Abercrombie since the company has become as famous for its discriminatory policies as it has for offensive T-shirts. It would show that the company is turning over a new leaf and attempting to be more inclusive. But for now, it seems the Abercrombie ideal of all-American beauty does not include religious people. The retailer has also barred employees from wearing cross necklaces, a symbol of Christianity. Former CEO Mike Jeffries said the retailer was “absolutely” “exclusionary,” and Abercrombie has more than lived up to those statements since.
[via USA Today]