SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) – A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled that trendy clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch wrongly fired a Muslim worker who insisted on wearing a head scarf.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said the company violated anti-discrimination laws when it fired Hani Khan from its Hollister store in San Mateo in 2010. Rogers issued the ruling on Tuesday.
In an interview with KPIX 5, Khan said she finally has justice after three years.
“What happened to me wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. And I don’t want another girl or anyone else to face discrimination just for the things that they believe in,” she said.
The company claimed the head scarf violated its policy governing the look of its employees, which it said was part of its marketing strategy. The store argued that deviating from its look policy would affect sales.
But the judge said Abercrombie & Fitch offered no “credible evidence” that Khan’s head scarf cost the company any sales.
“Abercrombie only offers unsubstantiated opinion testimony of its own employees to support its claim of undue hardship,” Rogers said.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on Khan’s behalf in 2011.
“Abercrombie & Fitch does not discriminate based on religion and we grant religious accommodations when reasonable,” spokesman Bruce MacKenzie said. “It is our policy not to comment on pending litigation.”
A trial on the company’s liability is scheduled for later this month. The judge said the jury is free to award punitive damages if it chooses.
“We’re hopeful that this will be a turning point for them and for others,” Zahra Billoo, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations told KPIX 5.
“Time and again having the courts find that headscarfs should be accommodated in the workplace should send a clear message to employers, including Abercrombie and Fitch, that this won’t be tolerated. And that people are willing to challenge it,” Billoo said.
It’s the latest employment discrimination charge against the company’s so-called “look policy,” which critics say means images of mostly white, young, athletic-looking people. The New Albany, Ohio-based company has said it does not tolerate discrimination.
Abercrombie has been the target of numerous discrimination lawsuits, including a federal class action brought by black, Hispanic and Asian employees and job applicants that was settled for $40 million in 2004. The company admitted no wrongdoing, though it was forced to implement new programs and policies to increase diversity.
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