The Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store chain has agreed to revise its employee dress code to accommodate religious practices, including the wearing of headscarves by Muslim women, a federal civil rights agency announced in San Francisco Monday.The agreement settles two religious-discrimination lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Ohio-based Abercrombie on behalf of two young Muslim women who wanted to wear headscarves on the job at Bay Area stores.
"We are pleased about the policy changes resulting from these lawsuits and commend these two courageous young women for standing up for their civil rights," said EEOC District Director Michael Baldonado.
One of the women, Hani Khan, 23, of Foster City, was fired in 2010 for wearing a headscarf at her job as a stockroom worker at an Abercrombie-owned Hollister Co. store at the Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo.
Company officials had determined that her headscarf violated Abercrombie's "Look Policy," according to a ruling in Khan's case by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of Oakland earlier this month. The policy requires workers to wear clothing with a casual, youthful look similar to that of items sold in the stores.
In the other case, the EEOC alleged that Halla Banafa, 24, was denied a job at an Abercrombie outlet at the Great Mall in Milpitas in 2008 because she wore a headscarf. Banafa was 18 at the time.
The settlement requires that Abercrombie will accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs, including allowing headscarves, unless doing so would cause undue business hardship.
In addition, Kahn will receive $48,000 and Banafa will receive $23,000 in financial compensation.
Abercrombie & Fitch Stores Inc. issued a statement saying, "Abercrombie & Fitch does not discriminate based on religion and we grant reasonable religious accommodations when they are requested.
"We are happy to have settled these cases and to have put these very old matters behind us," the company said.
The firm operates more than 1,000 stores, most within the United States.
The settlement follows recent rulings favoring the EEOC in both cases. In her Sept. 3 decision in Khan's case, Gonzalez Rogers concluded that Abercrombie was liable for religious discrimination.
The settlement averts a Sept. 30 trial in which a jury would have determined the amount of financial compensation to be awarded to Khan for emotional distress and possible punitive damages resulting from the discrimination.
Khan said at a news conference in San Francisco Monday, "I'm really happy after three and one-half years. Not only was the judge in my favor, seeing that I was discriminated against, but Abercrombie is willing to make changes to its policy."
Khan was 19 when she got the part-time stockroom job in October 2009 to earn money to transfer from a community college to the University of California at Davis.
She wore a headscarf to her interview and continued wearing one for four months on the job, but was fired after a visiting district manager noticed the headgear and, after consulting with a company human resources manager in Ohio, concluded it violated the Look Policy.
In Banafa's case, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila rejected several defense arguments by Abercrombie and declined to grant a pretrial summary judgment in favor of the company in April.
Among other conclusions, Davila said Abercrombie hadn't proved its claim that allowing an exception to its Look Policy would cause business hardship by hurting store sales or disrupting its brand image.
The two cases have now been consolidated in Davila's court for settlement purposes. He signed the agreement last week and will supervise the pact for the next three years.
The agreement provides that Abercrombie will tell store managers and job applicants that religious accommodations, including the wearing of headscarves, are available; will create an internal appeals process for denials of accommodation requests; and will submit reports to the EEOC every six months for three years.
The EEOC was joined by the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco-Employment Law Center in pursuing Khan's case.
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