Abercrombie & Fitch allegedly refused to hire practicing Muslim Samantha Elauf because she wore a headscarf during her interview. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, wearing a headscarf necessitates a “religious exemption” from Abercrombie & Fitch’s “look policy,” which states that hats are prohibited for employees. Elauf wore a black hijab to her interview, received a low score in the “appearance and sense of style” category, and was consequently denied the job. The company claimed that they did indeed have an exception, albeit limited, for religious head-coverings, but since Elauf did not personally ask for one during the time of the interview, she could not be hired.
However, why should an employee have to request an exemption based on religion, unless the company is inherently discriminatory? Perhaps the real issue behind the “look policy” is that the company discriminates based on religion and conceals its discrimination behind the excuse of a requirement for a “religious exemption.”
The “look policy” opposes not only religious attire, but also facial hair, clothing inconsistent with the season, unnaturally-bleached hair and earrings that dangle. While basic grooming and clothing guidelines can be set down by an employer, absolute control of nearly every aspect of physical appearance should be prohibited. It seems absurd that the minute details of someone’s image would be such a huge factor in judging his or her suitability as an employee.
In addition to Abercrombie & Fitch’s strict and specific rules in its “look policy,” the company also refers to its employees as “models,” therein implying a certain profile of their appearance. More often than not, employees at the stores are confined to a narrow set of physical characteristics: skinny, Caucasian and conventionally good-looking.
According to The New York Times, Abercrombie & Fitch was sued in both 2003 and 2006 for racial discrimination. The company was accused of favoring Caucasians for its sales floor jobs, seeking to project what the company calls the “classic American feel.” Through this biased hiring policy, Abercrombie & Fitch also indirectly implies the type of consumer it is aiming for. This results in the retailer alienating a vast majority of Americans who do not fit the confines of a prejudiced profile.
In light of recent campaigns that work to eliminate any negative stigma attached to certain body types — like Meghan Trainor’s body positive song “All About That Bass” — and on the simple basis of morality, the concept of a “look policy” should not exist at all. The company will see a decrease in revenue unless it starts hiring a more diverse range of employees and manufactures apparel to suit various body types and demographics. Progressive steps like these will undoubtedly win the favor of buyers and boost the popularity of the store. Simply continuing to cater to its usual customer base will not help sales.
Clothing retailer American Apparel also implements a “look policy” just as harsh as that of Abercrombie & Fitch. The retailer has been known not to hire people who are overweight and has recently gone to new extremes in its rules, prohibiting employees from wearing particular brands and adopting a highly offensive “no-ugly” policy. With this policy, head-to-toe pictures of employees are sent to a consultant, and if the employee is not deemed attractive enough or is not wearing the right brand of shoes, he or she can be dismissed.
The ruthless policy on appearance sheds a bad light on American Apparel, while promoting a negative message about body image in society. Prospective buyers can feel inadequate, even embarrassed, by shopping at a place that does not celebrate their appearance, further proliferating the alarming prevalence of low self-esteem in today’s society.
Morally and legally, hiring employees based on physical appearance is reprehensible and alienates a large portion of a company’s consumer base. And prioritizing religious affiliation or race over work experience and actual ability is both unethical and blatantly discriminatory. Retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch evidently favor a certain race and body type, and through an unethical policy, have denied the workers employment. Companies should not choose workers based on appearance, religion or ethnicity, but should rather pursue policies that provide equal opportunity to all potential hires.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch in early 2015.