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Muslim Teen Fired for Wearing Headscarf, Files Complaint

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji Posted: Mar 05, 2010

A 19-year-old Muslim teen, allegedly fired by retail clothing giant Abercrombie and Fitch for refusing to remove her headscarf at work, filed a complaint Feb. 23 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Hani Khan, a Foster City, Calif., resident of both Indian and Pakistani descent, had worked at the Hollister clothing store at a local shopping center since October 2009. Hollister is operated by Abercrombie and Fitch, which features provocatively clad and largely Caucasian models in its advertising.

Khan, a political science student at the College of San Mateo, told India-West she had worn her headscarf when she interviewed for the job, and was told then only that she would have to conform to the companys colors, which are navy, gray and white.

They didnt really focus on my headscarf at the interview, she said.

Khan was hired as a stockroom associate, and would occasionally go out on to the floor to re-fold and put away clothing discarded by customers. She said she faced no opposition to her headscarf from customers or from fellow associates at the store in the five months she worked there.

But on Feb. 9, a district manager came into the store, and glanced Khans way. Later that week, he brought Khan into the office and put her onto a phone call with Abercrombie and Fitchs human resources department.

They told me my headscarf was not in compliance with the companys looks policy and that I was being taken off the schedule roster, said Khan.

A week later, Khan received a call from human resources, asking if she would remove her headscarf while on the job. She refused, citing her religion. She was then told that she was fired.

Iska Hain, a spokeswoman for Abercrombie and Fitch, told India-West the company had no comment on the complaint. Abercrombies Web site stresses its commitment to diversity. We are committed to increasing and leveraging the diversity of our associates and management across the organization.

Those differences will be supported by a culture of inclusion, so that we better understand our customers, enhance our organizational effectiveness, capitalize on the talents of our workforce and represent the communities in which we do business, says a statement on the site.

But the clothing retailer has been the target of several previous suits. In 2004, Abercrombie agreed to pay out $45 million in a class action suit which accused the company of giving preferential treatment to its white employees. In 2009, Riam Dean, who worked at a London store, was told that her prosthetic arm did not fit the companys looks policy. A British tribunal awarded her $15,000.

Also in 2009, 17-year-old Samantha Elauf applied for a sales position at Abercrombie Kids in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but was told she could not wear her headscarf on the job. The EEOC has filed a complaint against Abercrombie on Elaufs behalf.

Khan has worn her headscarf since kindergarten, and said no one has ever made it an issue in the culturally-diverse San Francisco Bay Area.

While her parents initially asked her to wear the scarf, Khan said she was never forced by them, and decided when she began high school that she would wear her scarf everywhere.

It is such an important part of me, said Khan, who plans to transfer to a UC this fall, and eventually go on to law school.

Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told India-West that despite the previous suits, this company continues to violate the law and disrespect its clients.

On a personal level, if a company tells me you dont fit our look, I will say, well you dont fit mine, said Billoo, adding that she had a favorite sweater featuring the companys logo that she will no longer wear.

The law will determine the line, but so will consumers, said Billoo, noting, however, that CAIR is not seeking a boycott of the stores.

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