I don’t know about y’all, but I know that “all-American” is usually code for people who don’t have that extra descriptor in front of ‘American.’
On February 25, the Supreme Court heard a case on whether or not retailer Abercrombie & Fitch denied Samantha Elauf a job on the grounds of religious discrimination.
Elauf, 17, interviewed for a sales position while wearing her hijab in 2008 at Abercrombie in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The assistant manager Heather Cooke informed her that she thought she was qualified for the position and gave her a high interview score, but not sure about the company’s views on employees wearing hijabs, Cooke reached out to a regional manager to clarify.
Cooke was advised to downgrade Elauf’s interview score because her headscarf was not consistent with the company’s notoriously strict “look policy.”
Cooke tells the court that the conversation went as follows:
Cooke: And I asked [the district manager], you know, she wears the headscarf for religious reasons, I believe. And he said, “You still can’t hire her because someone can come in and paint themselves green and say they were doing it for religious reasons, and we can’t hire them.”
And I told him that I believed that she was Muslim, and that was a recognized religion. And that she was wearing it for religious reasons. And I believe that we should hire her.
Q: And what did he say?
Cooke: He told me not to hire her.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Abercrombie on the basis that the retailer has violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.
Elauf’s case won at district court level. However, the decision was changed after a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Abercrombie. The prevailing argument for the appeal was that Elauf didn’t inform the company that she wore the scarf for religious purposes or ask for accommodation.
Before the Supreme Court, Shay Dvoretzky, Abercrombie’s lawyer, maintains that the responsibility for religious accommodation lies with the applicant.
“Messages that deviate from a brand’s core identity weaken the brand and reduce its value,” said Dvoretzky.
The conversation on what appears to be a blatant act of discrimination has been filled with technicalities and questions on burden and accommodation.
What’s confusing, or some would say done intentionally, is that people are still debating over whether or not Abercrombie discriminated against Elauf.
The regional manager’s disrespectful comment, who is conveniently left unnamed, tells us all we need to know.
- Abercrombie doesn’t want someone of Muslim faith representing their company.
- Their “look policy” purposefully and actively excludes Hijab wearers. So you know, like, discrimination.
This exclusionary style policy and strict brand association is not something Abercrombie tries to hide or seems ashamed of and often goes hand-in hand, in terms of who they hire and who they market to.
Former Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries actually says in a 2006 Salon interview, “He wasn’t bothered by excluding some customers.”
He continues to say:
“We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Maybe someone should’ve shown him a definition of discrimination.
I think it’s clear what’s going on. The argument that this is a matter of upholding the brand is true. I believe it wholeheartedly. The brand doesn’t not include people who don’t fit the “All-American” east coast look.
And I don’t know about y’all, but I know that “all-American” is usually code for people who don’t have that extra descriptor in front of ‘American.’
But maybe that’s just me.
We get the message Abercrombie. We do.
I’m happy that Elauf’s case has received the recognition and traction it deserves, and I await the Supreme Court decision.
In the meantime, let this serve as a lesson to not only put our money, but also our labor and time in companies that respect and value us as individuals.
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images