Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Federal Court Decision on Religious Discrimination in the Workplace by Abercombie & Fitch’s Holister Stores Is the Unusual Case in Which Both Sides Were Wrong

And Waiting for Conservatives to Rush to Defend Freedom of Religion

In California a Muslim employee of a unit of the retailer Abercombie & Fitch was fired for wearing a headscarf.  The case was recently decided in Federal Court.  Here are the relevant facts.

  1. Umme-Hani Kahn, a devout Muslim was hired to work at Holister Stores, a division of Abercrombie and Fitch.

  1. Ms. Kahn wears a head scarf for religious reasons, was interviewed wearing the headscarf and allowed to work for 4 months wearing the headscarf.  Her headscarf reflected company color schemes.

  1. Four months into the job a supervisor noticed Ms. Kahn at work, asked her to remove the head scarf and when she refused on religious grounds she was fired.

  1. Abercombie’s rationale is that company policy requires employees dress in a certain manner in order to support the company’s image of stylish clothing and the policy forbids head scarves. 

Okay, so why was Abercrombie wrong here?  Well this nation has a policy of requiring accommodation for religion, and in the court’s decision it is clear that Ms. Kahn in no way harmed the commercial interests of Abercrombie.  Accommodating Ms. Kahn would not have caused harm to the employer.

Okay, so why was Ms. Kahn wrong here?  Well after suspending Ms. Kahn with pay, Abercrombie agreed to accommodate her, to allow her to wear her head scarf and remain employed.

So the logical and rational and correct solution would have been for the issue to end at that point.  But it didn’t, it went to court where the judge ruled in favor of Ms. Kahn and the litigation will continue for years.   

It will be interesting to see if the religious right expresses support for the cause of Ms. Kahn as the case winds its excruciatingly slow way through the system.  Why would they?  Well if the issue had been something like wearing a crucifix and Ms. Kahn had been suspended and ultimately fired for doing so, the uproar would have been tremendous.  Fox News would have 24/7 coverage; Bill O’Reilly would foment against the war on Christians, and every right wing pundit would be outraged.

But don’t expect that type of reaction here.  See religious freedom for conservatives does not extend to religions they don’t like or agree with.  The hypocrisy that dominates their beliefs with respect to freedom of religion overrides any concern for other religions and their freedom of worship.


  1. Conservatives believe that Christians are persecuted and Muslims are appeased. Therefore, refusal of accommodations to Christians is unconstitutional, but refusal of accommodations to (or outright discrimination against) Muslims is a kind of leveling of the playing field.

  2. Some countries have banned the use of the "burka" or head scarves because of problems with identifying a person--especially in the case of a crime. Plus, the dress is demeaning and really (in the guise of religion) subjugates a woman and makes her a second class citizen. If it were truly part of religious respect to cover one's head, why don't men do the same? It really has no place in American society. And as a "religious" symbol, I think it is suspect. A woman's hair is her "crowning glory" so why seek to hide it in the name of religion--or hide her face? Too much is credited to religion when it is really a male dominance issue!

  3. Thanks for deciding what has no place in American society. If you judge it to be demeaning, that's fine. But, as someone not a part of that religion, you have no place to enforce your own values on other individuals.
    A face-covering burqua is a different matter, as that starts to infringe on the rights and protections of others.

  4. @KyleJ. Hair is VERY MUCH part of facial recognition--covering hair in the totality that the head scarfs do, greatly inhibits facial recognition. Since most religion is bogus and is an arm of state control, I fail to see your point about values. Christianity and Islam have waged plenty of wars that are supposedly against their values--doesn't stop the wars, does it. I repeat, the Muslim dress for women is demeaning and is part of the religion's subjugation of women.