U.S. Jewish Groups Back Muslim Teen in Case Against Abercrombie & Fitch

Samantha Elauf was turned down for a job because of her hijab; Observant Jews face same discrimination, says Nathan Lewin, who filed court brief.

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 In this 2008 file photo, shoppers walk in front of a Abercrombie & Fitch store in San Jose, Calif.
In this 2008 file photo, shoppers walk in front of a Abercrombie & Fitch store in San Jose, Calif. Credit: AP

Orthodox Jewish groups in the United States have thrown their support behind a Muslim teenager who was denied a job at retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she wears a head scarf.

Seven Jewish groups joined a Muslim civil rights group and a public interest law firm in filing briefs supporting the teen, Samantha Elauf, this week at the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Elauf was turned down for a job at the Tulsa, Okla., branch of the youth-oriented clothing store because her hijab didn’t conform to the company's "look policy" of what is calls "classic East Coast collegiate style of clothing," according to court filings citing by the Times.

"This is a common experience that a lot of other Sabbath observers or people wearing yarmulkes have had in terms of applying for a position and being turned down because it is just a nuisance to employers," Nathan Lewin, who filed a friend of the court brief for the Orthodox Jewish groups, told the paper.

"It is important that these Orthodox Jewish groups express support for this Muslim woman who has had a similar experience," he added.

Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, another group that joined the brief said that the case could be "a possible infringement of the freedom of religion."

Former Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries.Credit: AP

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Abercrombie and won a $20,000 verdict on Elauf's behalf, for violating federal civil rights law, the Times reported. That verdict was overturned by a U.S. appeals court, which said Elauf did not request religious accommodation.
The Supreme Court will hear the case in October.

Abercrombie & Fitch's longtime CEO Michael Jeffries is retired last week, effective immediately, as the once-hip teen clothing chain's sales decline.

Jeffries is also retiring from the retailer's board of directors. He has served as CEO since February 1992, according to CapitalIQ.

"I believe now is the right time for new leadership to take the company forward in the next phase of its development," Jeffries said in a statement.

Abercrombie & Fitch has been looking to stock trendier clothing as its sales have weakened and teens have chosen to shop elsewhere. The company has even worked on stripping its once-prized Abercrombie logo off products as teens are now seeking more individuality in their clothing.

Jeffries drew harsh criticism during his tenure for, among other things, saying that the clothing line is only for "cool" people and not overweight or unattractive customers.

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