Muslim woman sues Abercrombie & Fitch over hijab

Muslim woman sues Abercrombie & Fitch, says company fired her for refusing
to remove headscarf

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former stockroom worker for Abercrombie & Fitch
Co. sued the clothing retailer in federal court Monday, saying she was illegally
fired after refusing to remove her Muslim headscarf while on the job.

Hani Khan said a manager at the company’s Hollister Co. store at the
Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo hired her while she was wearing her hijab. The
manager said it was OK to wear it as long as it was in company colors, Khan

Hani Khan, a former stockroom worker for Abercrombie & Fitch Co. who was fired for refusing to remove her Muslim headscarf, listens to a question during a news conference in San Francisco, Monday, June 27, 2011. Khan is suing the clothing retailer in federal court, saying she was illegally fired after refusing to remove her hijab. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Four months later, the 20-year-old says a district manager and human
resources manager asked if she could remove the hijab while working, and she was
suspended and then fired for refusing to do so.

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.

Still, 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.

“Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of
religion, I felt let down,” Khan, now a college student studying political
science, said at a news conference. “This case is about principles, the right to
be able to express your religion freely and be able to work in this

Abercrombie defended its record in a comment provided to The Associated
Press, saying diversity in its stores “far exceeds the diversity in the
population of the United States.”

“We comply with the law regarding reasonable religious accommodation, and we
will continue to do so,” said Rocky Robbins, the company’s general counsel. “We
are confident that when this matter is tried, a jury will find that we have
fully complied with the law.”

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco comes after the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in September that Khan was fired
illegally. Khan’s lawsuit was filed in conjunction with the EEOC’s lawsuit.

It is not the first time the company has been charged with discriminating
against Muslim women over the wearing of a hijab.

In 2009, Samantha Elauf, who was 17 at the time, filed a federal lawsuit in
Tulsa, Okla., alleging the company rejected her for a job because she was
wearing a hijab. That case is still ongoing.

The EEOC filed another lawsuit for the same reason, saying the company denied
work to a hijab-wearing woman who applied for a stocking position in 2008 at an
Abercrombie Kids store at the Great Mall in Milpitas, Calif.

Khan’s attorney said her client is looking to get Abercrombie to change its
“look policy” to allow religious headscarves to be worn by employees, and for
unspecified damages. The lawsuit alleges violations of federal and state civil
rights and employment laws.

“Abercrombie prides itself on requiring what it calls a natural classic
American style. But there’s nothing American about discriminating against
someone because of their religion,” said Araceli Martinez-Olguin, an attorney
with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center.

“Such a look policy cannot be squared with our shared values. No worker
should have to choose between their religion and their job.”


Woman weightlifter fights to compete in hijab

A 35-year-old weightlifter is battling to be able to compete in the sport she loves while wearing a hijab instead of the body-hugging uniform that’s required.

Kulsoom Abdullah, who was born in the United States to Pakistani parents, discovered weightlifting at her gym, Crossfit, in Atlanta in 2008. She entered her first open competition last year, and was thrilled to find out that she was actually pretty good in the competitive sport. She can lift 70 kilos (about 154 pounds) to her shoulders, and 60 kilos (or about 132 pounds) over her head, in a move called the “clean-and-jerk.” Last December, she qualified for the American Open Weightlifting Championships, which would have been her first national competition.

But when her coaches asked whether she would be able to wear her modified uniform–which covers everything but her face, hands, and feet–the organizers told told them no.

Abdullah talked to some lawyer friends, who told her that other athletes had won their bids to wear different clothing for religious reasons. So she tried again, this time personally writing to USA Weightlifting with her request, and asking the group if it could compromise on a uniform.

Officials with the group wrote back and said they had to follow the rules of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), which mandates collarless uniforms and doesn’t allow exceptions.

“I was really disappointed because I was really looking forward to it,” she told The Lookout. “I had never thought I would qualify at the national level.”

“It is like saying, if you are different, you can not compete,” she wrote on her web site. “I am not asking people to change, I am just asking to participate and be able to dress the way I do.”

Now, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy group, is taking up Abdullah’s cause, and trying to lobby weightlifting organizations to revise their rules in time for her to compete in a July national competition. CAIR officials are arguing that USA Weightlifting is in violation of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, which forbids sports bodies from discriminating based on “race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin.” Not allowing Abdullah to wear her hijab is discrimination, CAIR maintains.

USA Weightlifting told The Lookout in a statement that “uniforms must not cover either the knees or the elbows because the judges must be able to see that the lifter has locked out his or her knees and elbows in order for the lift to be deemed completed.” The IWF will discuss Abdullah’s request at a June 26 meeting in Penang, Malaysia. United States Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Jones says the group is committed to being “inclusive” but that it’s up to the IWF to decide if the modified uniform would provide a “competitive advantage.”

While the weightlifting powers-that-be have decided against her for now, Abdullah says she never feels out of place when training six days a week or when in open competitions with other lifters.

“They’re very encouraging,” she says of her fellow weightlifters, who are mostly men. “They’re really nice people and they’re very welcoming.”

As female competitor, “you’re always going to feel a little different,” she said of the traditionally male-dominated sport.

She says her family, who she lives with, is also supportive. “I mean, it is different, so they were [hesitant] … but they said as long as you don’t get hurt that’s fine. Sometimes it’s a little bit scary for my mom but I think she’s used to it now.”

Abdullah has a PhD in electrical computer engineering from Georgia Tech, and still does research at the university. She said what she likes about lifting is “there’s a lot of technique involved. Someone could be very strong and not be able to lift as much.”

Excelling at lifting “gave me confidence,” she said, adding that she hopes more women will join up if they hear about their story.

Abdullah’s problem is not unique in the world of sports. The Iranian woman’s soccer team showed up to a Olympic qualifying match against Jordan wearing hijabs on Sunday, and officials with the global soccer governing body, FIFA, promptly disqualified them. FIFA banned the headscarves in 2007, citing choking hazards.

(Abdullah in a February competition: courtesy of Abdullah and Mosquera:
Charles Krupa/AP)