Supreme Court nails Abercrombie and Fitch 8-1 over discrimination policy

hijabAn Abercrombie & Fitch manager told Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman who wore a hijab to a job interview, that her headgear made her ineligible for the job as it violated the company's "Look Policy."

This policy, described by The New Yorker's Margaret Talbot as "a weirdly exhaustive rulebook that reads as though it had been dreamed up by a middle-school queen bee on a Ritalin bender," was so obviously unconstitutional that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke for an 8-1 majority denouncing the illegal discrimination it represents.

"This is really easy," Justice Antonin Scalia said in announcing the decision from the bench. … "An employer may not make an applicant's religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions."

The company, he said, at least suspected that the applicant, Samantha Elauf, wore the head scarf for religious reasons. The company's decision not to hire her, Justice Scalia said, was motivated by a desire to avoid accommodating her religious practice. That was enough, he concluded, to allow her to sue under a federal employment discrimination law.

The dissenter was Clarence Thomas, who believes that "the company's dress code was a neutral policy."

Talbot's article explains that Abercrombie's singularly nasty corporate culture, obsessed with an almost comical ideal of all-American teen beauty, led it repeatedly to courtroom trouble for racist and discriminatory practices.

In 2004, the company agreed to pay fifty million dollars to several thousand employees in order to settle a class-action lawsuit charging that it discriminated against African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans in both its hiring practices and its advertising. Among other things, the suit alleged that non-whites were regularly shoehorned into back-of-the-store jobs where customers wouldn't see them as much.

[CEO Mike] Jeffries found it difficult to imagine that there might be cool kids who were not popular or, for that matter, blonde and white. The eventual result was a major downturn for the brand.

They eventually got rid of him, but it's too late.

"It's hardly white people's fault if they're better-looking" is a fitting epitaph for this doomed brand.