The well-known clothing store, Ambercrombie & Fitch, has begun to lose popularity among younger buyers but the company is also at the center of a scandal that has landed them all the way to the US Supreme Court.
The controversy started in 2008 when Samantha Elauf applied for a job at an Oklahoma store. During the interview process, the 17-year-old scored high but was not hired because as a Muslim, she wore a hijab.
When Elauf showed up at court last Monday, she wore a headscarf very similar to the one worn during her job interview. The teenager wrote a statement in which she said that she found out the reason for not being hired by Ambercrombie & Fitch was her headscarf, which according to her Muslim faith is a sign of modesty. Learning the real reason behind the company’s decision was shocking.
However, based on required dress code, Ambercrombie & Fitch defended their decision in not hiring Elauf. While a company spokesperson stated that head coverage of any kind is not permitted, a number of employees are speaking out claiming that employees of Jewish faith have been given permission to wear yarmulkes.
An attorney working on behalf of Ambercrombie & Fitch said that at no time did Elauf tell store management that she was wearing a headscarf because of her Muslim faith and since asking about religious beliefs as part of job interviews is forbidden, there was an assumption that her choice of dress was nothing more than a fashion statement.
After hearing arguments on both sides, the US Supreme Court will now have to decide if there were any violations against Elauf’s civil rights. As one individual stated, the whole thing is a joke. People know that turbans are worn by Sikh men, hats by Hasidic men, habits by Catholic nuns, so why would they have no clue that hijabs are worn by Muslim women.
The question about religious stereotypes was brought up as part of Monday’s court argument, as well as headscarves being a symbolism of Muslim faith and employment discrimination. As part of Elauf’s statement, she said she had worked for two other retail stores and was excited about the job prospect with Ambercrombie & Fitch. At no time was she ever told in those jobs not to wear a hijab.
Now 24 years of age, Elauf is a valued employee with Tulsa Oklahoma’s Urban Outfitters. While she has declined formal interviews, Michael Scheiner, spokesperson for Ambercrombie & Fitch said that the company has long been committed to inclusion and diversity, as well as consistency with the law whereby numerous religious accommodations have been granted when asked, to include hijabs.
A number of justices have recommended that all employers describe the required dress code, followed by asking potential employees if it presents any problem. That way, burden to reveal religious dress would fall back on the applicant.
In this case, a job applicant would have the opportunity to object based on religious belief at which time the employer would need to come up with an acceptable recommendation.