Abercrombie & Fitch drew ire last year when it came to light that what we’d always assumed about the brand is true–it doesn’t have any interest in selling clothes to anyone who doesn’t look like the blonde, buff models that grace its catalogs. To help ensure that customers know they’re super-hot members of an exclusive club (gag), the company has famously employed a “look policy” when it comes to hiring sales staff; potential employees need to meet certain physical criteria to sell overpriced t-shirts. If you’re a full-figured girl or a guy without rippling biceps and a chiseled jawline, forget it.
While this always seemed wrong on many levels, when the company cited its “look policy” as the reason it denied employment to a young Muslim woman who wore a head scarf for religious reasons, it officially became “wrong” on a legal level.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Samantha Elauf, who was rejected as a potential employee by a Tulsa, Okla., Abercrombie back in 2008 because her hijab caused her to have the wrong “look.”
In an 8-1 decision, the court backed Elauf, whose initial victory against the brand in a federal district court had been thrown out.
Abercrombie says that the case will continue, as the court did not technically rule that discrimination took place, but had determined that Elauf could in fact sue the company under the 1964 Civil Rights Act–which bans employment discrimination based on religious beliefs–without having actually asked the company for explicit permission to wear her hijab for religious reasons.
The company also pointed out that in April it replaced its extremely exclusionary “look policy” with a new dress code that “allows associates to be more individualistic,” while also changing hiring practices so attractiveness is no longer taken into account.
Ah, how progressive.
When you have to point out technicalities to try and save face in light of a damaging court case (while at the same time trying to revive sales, redefine your brand and distance your company from past scandals), keeping your head above water may become a challenge. We sure hope those hideous antler chandeliers float.