Fenwick Employment Brief - September 2013: New A & F’s Appearance Policy Violates Employee’s Religious Rights

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In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. dba Hollister Co California, LLC, a federal district court in California recently held that Abercrombie & Fitch’s “Look Policy” violated a part-time associate’s religious rights when it prohibited her from wearing a hijab at work. The clothing retailer – which promotes “Authentic American” clothing and often hires models for marketing campaigns from their retail stores – argued that its “Look Policy” is key to its success and its brand, and it could not accommodate the associate without undue hardship.

The court held that Abercrombie failed to raise a jury issue that allowing the associate to wear her hijab at work to accommodate her religious beliefs would have posed an undue burden to Abercrombie, and granted summary judgment to the associate on her religious accommodation claim. The court also allowed the associate’s claim for punitive damages to be decided by a jury, as it found that offering an employee only one option – to remove her hijab despite her religious beliefs – reasonably could support an award of punitive damages.