Muslim Teen Allegedly Denied Job Because Of Head Scarf May Have Claim For Religious Discrimination

The popular clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch, often in hot water for its advertising campaigns, now finds itself facing legal troubles. A Muslim teenager was turned away for employment by the retailer after wearing a religious headscarf to a job interview. Now, a federal district court in California has determined that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can proceed with religious discrimination claims against the company.

Title VII prohibits “religious discrimination.” As with other anti-discrimination provisions of Title VII – such as sex discrimination and race discrimination – your employer may not take an adverse action against you based on your religious beliefs. This means a potential employer can’t deny you a job because of your religious beliefs or discipline or fire you because of your faith.

If you have questions about religious discrimination or believe that you may have been discriminated against because of your religion, it’s a good idea to consult with a top Atlanta discrimination lawyer right away.

In the recent religious discrimination case, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., Halla Banafa applied for a job at two different Milpitas, California Abercrombie stores, but was denied a position. The people who were hired were non-Muslim and had lower scores on their job applications. Abercrombie claim that it failed to hire Banafa because she had “limited availability.” However Banafa argued that this reason was really “pretext” [an excuse] for not hiring her. She alleged that the real reason she wasn’t hired was religious bias.

The court determined that whether the decision not to hire Ms. Banafa was based on religious bias should be left to a jury to decide. It listed several factors that could support improper bias. For example, the EEOC alleged that Abercrombie did not hire Banafa because it determined that her hijab, or religious headscarf, was inconsistent with the “Abercrombie look.” Under the company’s “look policy,” employees are required to wear clothes similar to those sold in Abercrombie stores.

Also, the excuses given by the store for not hiring Ms. Banafa changed over time. At first, the manager said she wasn’t hired because she wasn’t the best-qualified applicant. Later she said she was not sufficiently outgoing, engaging, or confident during her interview. After the lawsuit was filed, the manager said it was her limited availability.

Abercrombie also tried to assert that requiring its employees to look a certain way (i.e. East coast preppy) is commercial speech so traditional “reasonable accommodation” arguments aren’t applicable. The court rejected this statement, noting that “[t]he appropriateness of requiring an accommodation to the Look Policy in this case remains a question of employment law … Abercrombie cannot achieve an end-run around Title VII.”

For more information about religious discrimination or to talk to someone about employment discrimination, please contact the knowledgeable Georgia employment discrimination lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.