Hollister sales associate Umme-Hani Khan thought she was doing everything right: She wore flip-flops and long-sleeved shirts and jeans she bought at the trendy clothing store, and the hijabs, or headscarves, she wore matched company colors.
But four months into her job, in February 2010, a district manager spotted her at the store where she worked in San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco, and asked her to remove her hijab.
Khan, a 19-year-old who worked part-time in the stockroom, refused, citing her Muslim faith. Within two weeks, the district manager and the head of corporate human relations at Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister's parent company, agreed Khan should be fired for violating the company's "Look Policy," which bans headwear.
Now a federal judge says that Abercrombie & Fitch owes Khan damages. U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers wrote that "reasonable jurors could determine that by offering Khan one option – to remove her hijab despite her religious beliefs – Abercrombie acted with malice, reckless indifference…"
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Abercrombie has long been criticized for its hiring practices, often for favoring more attractive job applicants who fit the retailer's young, preppy look. When Khan's case landed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal office that oversees employee rights, attorneys there were already working on two similar cases involving Abercrombie.
In both cases, one out of Tulsa, Okla., the other out of Northern California, the EEOC claimed that Abercrombie refused to hire two women because they wore hijabs.
Abercrombie said in a statement to NBCNews.com on Tuesday that it does not discriminate based on religion and that the company grants "religious accommodations when reasonable." The company would not comment further, saying it does not discuss pending cases.
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