Abercrombie & Fitch Acts a Fool Once Again

July 1, 2011


Really, Abercrombie? Did you have to act a fool again? I get it: hijabs don't exactly jive with the whole "mostly nude, mostly white, 20-something surfer dude/chick" look. But what I don't get is the suspension and subsequent firing of former Hollister employee (an A&F company) Hani Khan for wearing one. Twenty years old and a San Mateo native, Khan is now suing A&F for lost pay and damages.

The case is similar to that of Noor Abdallah, a University of Illinois at Chicago student and intern at Disney who last year was forced to work in an out-of-the-way stockroom because of her hijab. Abdallah eventually agreed to don a blue beret designed by Disney on top of her hijab -- a perfectly adequate compromise. Khan, too -- at least at first -- was permitted to wear a hijab to work: her manager hired her on the condition that she merely wear hijabs in one of three Hollister-y colors. But she ended up being fired anyway after a district manager visited the store and nevertheless demanded that Khan shed her hijab at work, on pain of violating A&F's "look" policy. And she was working stockroom duty too! What gives?

First of all, it sucks that Khan was given the old heave-ho even after complying with her immediate manager's (very reasonable) demands. But, either way, it's pretty douchey for A&F to kick an employee to the mall curb more or less because she elected to remain mostly not nude on personal, religious grounds. "When I was asked to remove my scarf after being hired with it on, I was demoralized and felt unwanted," said Khan. "Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I have felt let down."

In another similar and ongoing case in Tulsa, Oklahoma, A&F refused to hire a Muslim woman who wore a hijab in the first place. There, A&F argues that hijabs harm the brand's image -- bold words for a retailer notorious for historically enraging Asian Americans and other minorities time and time again. In 2004, for instance, A&F was forced to cough up $40 million to thousands of minority and women plaintiffs for discrimination. In contrast to "Two Wongs Can Make It White," I'm guessing Khan's decision to don a hijab had no detrimental financial affect on A&F. Ultimately it is A&F's history that is encouraging many Asians all the world over to finally let go of their senseless obsession with A&F -- eh, on second thought, maybe not.

It's not, however, reasonable to expect businesses and the like to accommodate every possible religious concern. It's not fair for employees to demand just any sort of arrangement in their favor on religious grounds. But it's clear that A&F, at least, refuses to compromise even a smidgeon to Khan and other hijab-wearers. Even consigning Khan to stockroom duty was unacceptable -- it's demeaning. I fully acknowledge the prerogative of businesses to define issues of image and so forth for themselves, but it's not simply bad luck that some potential employees -- cf. complaints by black and Latino applicants in years past of discriminatory hiring policies -- aren't hired by A&F because of their appearence. Imagine if non-white A&F employees were all sent to the work in the back as a matter of policy, not because of any opposition to them per se, but to ensure a robust white presence at the cash register. Imagine the hooplah.


Saif Ansari


Saif Ansari graduated recently from UCLA with a BA in philosophy and is now an MA student at NYU, also in philosophy. He is interested mostly in political philosophy, ethics and law. Saif wrote for two years as a columnist for UCLA's student-run newspaper The Daily Bruin. He wrote for and edited several other publications at UCLA and maintains a personal blog at www.sansari.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @vetoshield.



"It's not, however, reasonable to expect businesses and the like to accommodate every possible religious concern." . In effect, you are arguing just this. . Business would be forced to operate on the standards of which religion happens to be the noisiest and ready to sue. . . This part of your posted article amused me to no end: . "When we first received Ms. Khan's complaint, it was the explicitness of Abercrombie & Fitch's discriminatory demands which concerned us," Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR's Bay Area office, said today. "They were both egregious and illegal. For an employer to, point-blank, require an employee to relinquish their religious practice is a violation of our cherished civil rights laws." . If Miss Khan's religious views were so important to her, why did she want to work for A&F in the first place? Sort of like a Catholic nun working part time as a stripper then complaining about getting groped. . I think Miss Khan is a plant for CAIR or at the very least a tool for them. . . Imagine a Muslim getting hired by a Chinese Restaurant, refusing to serve pork lo mein because it is an unclean meat and then suing the restaurant after they let her go "on religious grounds".