Published September 18, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY – A Muslim teenager claims in a federal lawsuit that she was denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store at a Tulsa mall because she wore a head scarf.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tulsa by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 17-year-old Samantha Elauf said she applied for a sales position at the Abercrombie Kids store in the Woodland Hills Mall in June 2008. The teen, who wears a hijab in accordance with her religious beliefs, claims the manager told her the head scarf violates the store's "Look Policy."
"These actions constitute discrimination against Ms. Elauf on the basis of religion," the lawsuit states.
A spokeswoman for the New Albany, Ohio-based retailer declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the company has "a strong equal employment opportunity policy, and we accommodate religious beliefs and practices when possible."
An attorney for the EEOC claims the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers from discrimination based upon religion in hiring. The EEOC said the lawsuit was filed after the agency attempted to reach a voluntary settlement.
"It is unlawful for employers to treat applicants or workers differently based on their religious beliefs or practices in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring and job assignments," EEOC senior trial attorney Michelle Robertson said.
The suit seeks back pay for the teen and a permanent injunction against the retailer from participating in what it describes as discriminatory employment practices. It seeks undisclosed monetary and non-monetary losses resulting from "emotional pain, suffering, anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation and inconvenience."
The suit also seeks punitive damages against the company for its "malice or reckless indifference to her federally protected rights."
In 2004, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. agreed to pay $50 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the EEOC that accused the company of promoting whites over minorities and cultivating a practically all-white image in its catalogs and elsewhere.