Sunday, February 22, 2015

Employee discrimination at Abercrombie and Fitch? Supreme court ready to hear the case.

The Supreme Court will hear a case of February 25th regarding a 17 year old Muslim girl Samantha Elauf, who was denied a job at the apparel store Abercrombie and Fitch, because she is compelled to wear a Hijab as a part of her religion. The interviewer made no mention to her that the Hijab would be an issue if she received the job. She was given a score in her interview which by the company standards should have landed her the job, but was apparently denied it due to a district managers disapproval, and his recognition that her head dress might not be compatible with the companies image, which was said to be a "classic east coast collegiate style." Her "looks" score on the interview was then changed to the lowest possible one, disqualifying her from the job. The company calls for their floor models and employees not to wear any sort of headdress that is not in their dress code or to deviate in any way from the uniform that the company has approved.

A federal district court ruled in favor of Elauf, but the Court of Appeals sided with Abercrombie. Abercrombie’s lawyers are arguing that Elauf failed to specify her necessary accommodation during the interview process, therefore because the interviewer was made aware of her religious preference, he was not compelled to notify her of the companies strict dress code, and that a Hijab would not be permitted. 

William Burgess, a senior staff attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations commented on what the supreme courts decision will mean going forward in that it would "permit an employer to discriminate against a job applicant on the basis of her religion without legal consequence if the applicant does not know that she must expressly state her need for a religious accommodation, even when she is unaware of employer policies that would require it.” I have to personally disagree with this statement in that even though she may not have explicitly known the dress code, Elauf had yet to be hired, and was still in the preliminary stages of receiving the job, and that the company and the interviewer, having later received information from her that she would need an accommodation, gave them the right to deny hiring her because of the conflict that her Hijab would conflict with the companies standards.  

I  think that as a private corporation, A & F have the right to set forth a dress code which can be enforced strictly. They clearly have a very particular image which is central to their brand and their ability to sell clothing, which is why I think granting religious accommodations for employees in relation to the dress code may be more of a burden to a company such as this then it would be to others. Because the company feels as though wearing a Hijab would negatively affect their image, and that it could potentially cause an economic burden, they have the right to deny her employment. What if for example the next employee to come in where to be wearing robes, and that they had to be wearing these robes at all times in order to adhere to their religion. Should that person be granted an exception as well? This brings us back to that idea of a "slippery slope" in that if they allow one accommodation, they might continue to escalate and take away certain hiring rights away from private organizations, which in my opinion is too much government intervention into the private sector. One could also make the argument that ruling against Elauf and similar people in cases similar to this would allow for greater discrimination amongst companies in terms of hiring, and that certain people may be denied employment due to their religious beliefs.  In response to a claim like that I would say they have the right to set and enforce a strict dress code, and if a perspective employee feels as though that dress code conflicts with their ability to practice their religious beliefs, there are plenty of other places where they can work where a conflict like this wouldn't arise.


Liz E said...

I do not agree that Abercrombie & Fitch should be allowed to discriminate again Samantha Elauf based on her religious practices. Wearing a hijab does not cause any harm or issues in this particular workplace. This is simply a company being superficial and discriminatory. I would argue that this could lead to a slippery slope as well. If they are allowed to deny employment to Elauf based on her inability to fit the 'stereotypical brand' of "classic east coast collegiate style" then what can stop them from denying employment on the basis of race or other appearance issues that didn't fit the brand. I know companies like Abercrombie and Fitch have previously gotten in trouble for such issues. In Gonzalez v Abercrombie and Fitch (2003) many men and women who were denied employment based on their race sued the company. The court approved a 50 million dollar settlement that required A&F to give money to "the class of Latino, African American, Asian American and female applicants and employees who charged the company with discrimination." The settlement ensured that A&F would improve its employment practices and diversify its employee base. It seems to me that the company has not done so and is furthering their discrimination on the basis of religion.

Mackenzie Y said...

Even though Abercrombie and Fitch has a particular image they are trying to get across, they should not have the right to deny employment, in general, to someone who qualifies for every aspect of the job, but needs a religious accommodation. This is definitely a slippery slope; whatever the decision is this week. Abercrombie & Fitch has been in the public eye for years as being a superficial company, as Liz noted, and this is another example of how they are. As a publicly traded company on the NYSE, Abercrombie & Fitch should not be able to essentially hold their religious beliefs, i.e. not to wear a hijab, over their employers. If they were a close, privately owned company, such as Hobby Lobby, that would be a different story. I am interested to hear what the Supreme Court decides.

Nate Hunter said...

I agree that this company does have a history of actions that are in theory discriminatory, and that it is somewhat ridiculous that she is being denied, and that she will more likely then not win this case. I however still believe that hiring practices by a company that is known to enforce a strict dress code is their own business, and that her Hijab in their eyes, even if it does not seem that way to us, does not comply with their rules, and they have very right to enforce said rules. However this constant negative publicity has been causing for their stocks to plummet and for them to close almost 30% of their retail stores over the next couple years. The future for them looks bleak, and I think back to something Robert said in class that might apply to this scenario. It is that it is only a matter of time before companies such as this, that have potential discriminatory practices, be squeezed out and run out of business. Maybe it is just the libertarian within me speaking saying to oppose this kind of government intervention in the private sector, even though I do feel for this young girl and the fact that she feels discriminated against by a seemingly heartless corporation.

Nneoma I. said...

I absolutely agree that Abrecombie has the right to set standards on their dress code for their company. They did not discriminate of her directly because of her religion, but rather because she is unable to adhere to their clothing standards. Similar examples are the cases regarding discrimination in the military based on visible religious attire. Clothing companies and military organizations alike are not willfully targeting religious groups but rather protecting their right to decide the uniformity of their associations.

Jesse Boord said...

This is ridiculous. AF should be able to hire whoever the hell they want, for whatever reasons they want. I'm sorry but religions are not special. If you're gonna believe bogus stuff that has no evidence, then AF shouldn't have to humor it. But aside from that, I believe every company should be free to hire who they want, for whatever reasons they want. I am totally fine with AF turning ppl away simply because they aren't good-looking enough. It's their company, they should be allowed to hire who they please. Imagine you owned a company, and you had an image in mind of what ppl would see when they came to your store, and some court ruled that you can't have it, and that you have to hire anyone who walks into your door. It's bulkshit, plain and simple.