Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is It Really Religious Discrimination?

Abercrombie & Fitch are in legal hot water over alleged religious descrimination. They did not hire a 17 year-old girl who is Muslim, allegedly because of her head covering. She was told that her hijab did not comply with the company "Look Policy." Read about it on ABC news, the Guardian,, or msnbc.

My thoughts are still in a jumble about this. On the one hand, it certainly looks like religious discrimination. On the other hand, initially I felt inclined to side with Abercrombie & Fitch. I think that companies have a certain amount of freedom to tell their employees what they can and cannot wear, but I'm not sure how far that should go. The foremost thing on my mind, though, is why on Earth did this girl want to work at Abercrombie and Fitch?

Part of working at A&F is sporting their look, which is far from modest. A main tenet of Islam is modesty in dress and behavior, in fact, that's where the whole hijab thing comes into play. I have no religious rules or tenets influencing me, but I consider myself to be relatively modest in the way I dress, though not nearly so modest as the ideal Muslim. I would never want to associate myself with that store. I guess it just surprises me that she wanted to work there at all.

Anyway, feel free to read about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It certainly seems like Abercrombie is in violation Title VII. What about a hijab would prevent the girl from doing her job properly? Furthermore, referencing one of the articles about this story, what would prevent a (different) girl who wanted to wear her hemline below her knees from doing her job properly?

Then I come back to how I usually think. Abercrombie is not discriminating against these people because of their religions, but rather how they dress. They are marketing a product, after all, and their sales team is part of the marketing strategy. Would we force them to hire a model who refused to remove her hijab or wanted them to alter their clothing so the hem of a skirt hit below the knee? Absolutely not. In fact, I think any model who tried to pull that stunt would be laughed out of the fashion world. A better argument might even be found: would we force them to hire a girl with a "goth" style if she refused to stop wearing her combat boots or spiked dog collar?

I cannot decide how I feel. Where's the line between religious discrimination and choosing an employee based on their ability to fulfill the previously set requirements of the job? Ultimately, I do think I side with A&F on this one, though their "Look Policy" should probably be investigated further.

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