It isn’t just disabled customers or extra-large shoppers Abercrombie & Fitch has been accused of discriminating against — a judge says the clothing retailer’s Hollister brand was also in the wrong when a store fired a worker after she refused to remove her head covering, a hijab she wears for religious reasons.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers found that Abercrombie & Fitch violated the former employee’s rights by firing her from a California Hollister store in 2010 her over the head scarf, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
That decision could open the door to a landslide of punitive damages as well, as she wrote in her decision that “reasonable jurors” could find such damages could be awarded.
At the focus of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and civil rights lawyers’ suit is what the groups called a pattern of religious discrimination, as evidenced through its “look policy.” That rule restricts what workers can wear at work and outlaws head coverings of all kinds.
Abercrombie claimed that providing an exception for workers who want to wear religious head coverings would damage its brand and claimed commercial speech rights, but the judge put the kibosh on that argument. She also said a jury would have to weigh whether or not the recent policy changes implemented by Abercrombie would prevent further discrimination.
“Abercrombie must provide more than generalized subjective beliefs or assumptions that deviations from the Look Policy negatively affect the sales or the brand,” the judge wrote. “A reasonable jury could not conclude that Abercrombie would be unduly burdened by allowing Khan to continuing wearing her hijab.”
The worker at the heart of the case said she hopes Abercrombie will change its policies so this doesn’t happen again.
“We’re living in America; it’s such a melting pot of diversity with so many different types of people,” she said. “That’s why I’ve taken this case so publicly, so that they realize what they did was wrong and what they continue to do is wrong.”
Abercrombie didn’t comment on the ruling but said in a statement that it doesn’t discriminate based on religion and “we grant religious accommodations when reasonable.”
Judge: Abercrombie & Fitch’s Muslim garb ban violated bias laws [San Jose Mercury News]