A federal judge ruled recently that a Muslim woman who was fired by Abercrombie & Fitch was discriminated against on religious grounds, which is illegal. The woman was fired in 2010 because her headscarf did not comply with the company’s dress code.
When the woman began working for the retailer in 2009, she was told that her headscarf would have to be worn in certain colors. The woman complied, but four months later she was told that her headscarf violated the dress code and she would have to remove it at work. The woman refused, and was fired. A federal judge ruled that since the headscarf was the only departure from the company’s dress code, her termination violated Title VII. There will be a trial on damages later this month. In 2011, the company lost another lawsuit filed by a Muslim who was not hired because she was wearing a headscarf during her interview. That case is currently being appealed.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes discrimination based on religious beliefs illegal in the workplace. Title VII protects not only people who are members of traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but also people who have sincerely held religious or moral beliefs.
There are many ways in which a person can be discriminated against because of his or her religion. Under federal law, religious discrimination is illegal when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, job assignments, pay, layoffs, training, promotions, and any other term or condition of employment. The law also prohibits workplace or job segregation based on religion. For example, if Abercrombie & Fitch hired the Muslim woman, allowed her to wear her headscarf, but forced her to work in the store’s warehouse and forbid her from having contact with customers, that may be religious discrimination.
By law, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the business. For example, if Abercrombie & Fitch had allowed the woman to continue wearing the headscarf, but only in certain colors as they did originally, that would probably be considered a reasonable accommodation.
It is also illegal to harass a person in the workplace because of his or her religion. By law, the harasser doesn’t have to be the boss or the employer – it could also be a co-worker, a customer, or another party. In order to be illegal, the harassment has to be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.
In addition to Title VII, California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act also makes such discrimination illegal. If you feel that you have been discriminated against at work because of your religion, you may wish to bring a lawsuit under state law, federal law, or both, depending on the circumstances.