Woman fired over headscarf to continue lawsuit

June 27, 2011 4:36:47 PM PDT
A Peninsula college student is suing Abercrombie & Fitch, claiming her civil rights were violated when she was fired for refusing to remove her headscarf.

Twenty-year-old Hani Kari says her firing from the Hollister outlet store in Hillsdale was because of religious discrimination. The college student says she's been wearing the headscarf, known as a hijab, since kindergarten.

At the Hollister store where Kari worked, the store manager had no problem when Kari was hired for a stockroom job, but four months later, a district manager and the store's human resources department did.

Kahn was fired over the phone when she refused to remove her headscarf.

"I was completely shocked," Kahn said at a press conference on Monday. "Nothing like this has ever happened to me. I was 19 at the time, and no one ever had an issue with my hijab."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a discrimination lawsuit on Monday against Abercrombie & Fitch, which owns the Hollister franchise. The Legal Society is joining that suit as well.

"No worker should have to choose between their religion and a job," said attorney Araceli Martinez-Olguin.

The EEO Commission and Legal Aid are calling on Abercrombie & Fitch to change their policy regarding the headscarves and are asking for punitive damages. Legal Aid says Abercrombie & Fitch violated state and federal civil rights laws.

"Abercrombie prides itself on requiring what it calls a natural, classic American style," said Martinez-Olguin, "but there is nothing American about discriminating against someone because of their religion."

Kahn said the store manager told her she could wear her hijab as long as it was in keeping with the store's color scheme: Navy blue, gray or white. But human resources said employees are not allowed to wear any head coverings at all.

In a statement released by Abercrombie & Fitch, the company said they are "committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all individuals regardless of race or ethnicity. We comply with the law regarding reasonable religious accommodations."

Kahn said she's received death threats since her story went public.

"They came in the form of emails and they were sent directly to the CAIR office, they weren't personally sent to me," Kahn said. "They talked about decapitating my head and wrapping it around a pigskin and burying it."

CAIR is the Council for American Islamic Relations, a group that brings awareness to Muslim civil rights in the United States.

Abercrombie & Fitch said the diversity in their stories exceeds the nation's diversity and it is confident that a jury will find that it has complied with the law.


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