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CAIR & LAS-ELC Announce Settlement in Abercrombie & Fitch Hijab Lawsuits
Earlier this morning, the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA), the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the settlement of a three and a half year lawsuit against teen clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.
The settlement follows a recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers that the company had violated Federal and state civil rights laws by refusing to allow Hani Khan, of Foster City, to wear her religious headscarf at work, and rejecting its undue hardship and “free speech” defenses. Abercrombie has agreed to make numerous substantive policy and practice changes – including a modification to the ‘Look Policy’ specifically acknowledging A&F’s legal obligations to allow exceptions -- to settle the lawsuit which was otherwise scheduled to go to trial at the end of the month.
“It has been a long three years, but the resolution we obtained made every step worth it,” said Hani Khan, who spoke at this morning’s press conference. “I am hopeful that my struggle and this victory will ensure that what happened to me at Abercrombie never happens to any other employees there. All Americans have the right to religious accommodation in the workplace, and we must challenge discrimination when it happens.”
“We knew from the moment Ms. Khan came to us that her rights had been violated, and that her case would be an important one to pursue,” said Zahra Billoo, Executive Director at CAIR-SFBA and one of Khan’s attorneys. “We applaud her courage in asserting her rights and remaining steadfast through several years of litigation. Nobody should ever have to choose between their job and their religion, and this victory is one step further in that direction.”
“Unfortunately, discrimination of this kind continues at an alarming rate throughout the country, and few workers have the courage to stand up for their rights,” said Marsha Chien, Skadden Fellow at LAS-ELC and one of Khan’s attorneys. “It is our hope that the brave actions of those like Ms. Khan will help ensure that no employee is made to believe she or he doesn’t fit a company’s idea of an ‘all-American lifestyle.’”
The company settled the case along with another lawsuit brought by the EEOC on behalf of an Abercrombie & Fitch applicant, Halla Banafa, who was not hired because of her headscarf. In Banafa’s case, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila dismissed several of Abercrombie’s defenses in April of this year.
The EEOC, Abercrombie, and Khan agreed to consolidate the settlement of the two California lawsuits into one Stipulated Judgment and Decree. Under the decree, Abercrombie will:
- create an appeals process for denials of religious accommodation requests;
- revise the ‘Look Policy’ to expressly acknowledge that A&F is legally mandated to allow exceptions in certain circumstances;
- inform applicants during interviews that accommodations to the ‘Look Policy’ may be available;
- provide employees with information about how to make religious accommodation requests; incorporate information regarding requests for headscarf accommodations into all manager training sessions;
- institute, at a minimum, quarterly reviews of all religious accommodation requests and decisions;
- post notices of the settlement and notifications of employees’ right to request ‘Look Policy’ accommodations; and
- provide biannual reports to the EEOC and Khan for three years regarding implementation of these policy changes
About CAIR-SFBA: The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is the nation's oldest chapter of CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding. Celebrating its 19th anniversary in 2013, each year CAIR provides legal advice, assistance, and representation to thousands of American Muslims alleging religious discrimination and harassment.
About LAS-ELC: The Legal Aid Society of San Francisco-Employment Law Center, founded in 1916, is a non-profit public interest law firm committed to protecting the rights and economic self-sufficiency of low-income and disadvantaged workers and their families. LAS-ELC has for decades litigated on issues of racial equality; gender equity, immigration and national origin discrimination, and disability rights. Aside from its impact litigation, the LAS-ELC conducts public education and legislative advocacy, provides technical assistance to other advocacy groups, and undertakes direct legal representation in specific cases.