Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Federal Judge schools Abercrombie and Fitch on its hiring practices

Those of you who follow along here might remember this post, from a few months ago, about the whole kerfluffle over Abercrombie and Fitch's "look policy", and how discriminatory their hiring and sizing policies are. You might also remember this follow-up post I wrote a few days later, where I discussed how some people were fighting back against A&F's exclusionary policies.

Well, the clothing retailer has now been ruled against by a federal court after being sued by Umme-Hani Khan, a Muslim employee in California after she was asked to remove her headscarf, which she wears out of religious conviction, and who was fired when she refused to comply.A
US District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzales, in ruling on the case, was quoted in an article online at NBC's website that by acting as it did, jurors could reasonably determine that "by offering Khan one option – to remove her hijab despite her religious beliefs – Abercrombie acted with malice, reckless indifference..." A&F was ordered by the judge to pay damages to Khan.

At the time that Khan's case first came to the attention of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), the article reports, that agency was already looking at two similar cases, another from Northern California and one from Oklahoma, in which two other Muslim women had been refused jobs because they would not take off their headscarves.

Abercrombie and Fitch has said that they don't discriminate, but according to the article, they have also claimed that their employees are "living advertisements" and that they should be allowed to control what the employees wear because they are exercising their protected commercial speech. A&F has claimed that their employees represent an "aspirational lifestyle" - whatever that is - and that they are part of the "atmosphere" of the store.

The really unbelievable thing about all of this is that, in the article, a "brand consultant" (sorry for all the quotation marks here, but I don't know how else to deal with the attitudes represented by the use of some of these terms) named Rob Frankel defended A&F's policy stand by saying that in enforcing their employee dress code, the company is not violating anyone's rights, but instead is simply "creating brand consistency."

So, Frankel is saying, as far as I can see, that employees are nothing more than walking, talking, money-making (for the company) mannequins that the company should be able to do with as they wish. I mean, I know that some corporations seem to believe that once someone goes to work for them, that the company owns them and all, but this...this strikes me as only just short of serfdom. Yeah, the employee can walk if they don't like doing what they're told. But, in this economy, how does someone walk off a job with no certainty that they'll be able to find another one in a reasonable length of time?

I don't know. Maybe A&F felt that there would be no push-back on this because the employees in question were Muslim women. I'm glad that they were wrong, and that the court ruled in favor of Khan and her headscarf. Because, you know, despite appearances to the contrary sometimes, we have a tradition of religious freedom in the United States that should not be marginalized in the name of the almighty dollar.

Yeah. I know. I am, apparently, not a good capitalist. Still, what kind of company considers it's human resources - its employees - nothing more than living advertisements?

Not one I'd be interested in buying from.

Just a word to the corporate overlords at Abercrombie and Fitch: Capitalism works all kinds of ways, and one of those ways is that if you offend too many people, you aren't going to pull in business. Instead, you'll be out of business.

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