Abercombie & Fitch, the upscale clothing retailer has long been suspected of discriminatory hiring practices as also, criticized for marketing what many consider tasteless t-shirts. (The Chinese laundry logo, "Two Wongs Can Make It White," is priceless; I wonder how many high fives were exchanged after this particular witticism was coined.) Given the image of the store, it is not surprising that an African American employee lost his job for wearing his hair in corn-rows. It is also unsurprising that the dismissed employee sued on the basis of racial discrimination. Here is the press release of the case.
Race Discrimination Case Against Abercrombie and Fitch Heads
Toward Trial: African-American Man Was Fired in 2007 for His
So-Called “Extreme” Hairstyle
A federal race discrimination lawsuit filed against Abercrombie and Fitch by an African-American man who was fired for his hairstyle is gearing up for trial. Abdul Jabbar Gbajiamilla filed his case after he was fired in 2007 from a San Diego store for wearing his hair
in corn-rows. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in May 2010, by civil rights attorneys Lisa Holder and Sanjukta Paul of Los Angeles, has cleared initial procedural hurdles and is now on the path toward trial.
The company did not contend that Gbajiamilla suffered from performance problems or that there was any other reason for his termination. Instead, Abercrombie has expressly stated that corn-rows violate the company’s grooming policy, which requires employees to sport a “clean, natural, and classic” hairstyle. Abercrombie’s Director of Human Resources testified in a related proceeding that corn-rows do not fit this definition because they are “extreme” and “uncommon.”
Plaintiff Gbajiamilla commented, “I brought this lawsuit because I believe the United States has come too far in regards to racial tolerance to now retreat. I should not be forced to conceal or tone down my God-given identity as a black person. There is nothing ‘extreme’ about being black.”
The lawsuit is the latest allegation of racial discrimination against the national retailer, which is already subject to a federal consent decree that requires it to take steps to prevent discrimination against nonwhite employees and to promote racial and cultural diversity. That suit, filed by a panoply of civil rights groups, settled in 2005.
Gbajiamilla is the son of Nigerian immigrants and grew up in Southern California. He had styled his hair in corn-rows for his college graduation ceremony from San Diego State University.
The lawsuit is brought under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. It alleges that under Abercrombie's grooming policy, which mandates that employees sport a "clean, natural, and classic" hairstyle, African-American employees are required to wear hairstyles which are intended to conceal the distinctive texture of their hair. For example, African-American men are required to wear a closely cropped haircut, such that the texture of their hair is not visible at all. Other men, with "straight or loosely curled" hair, are permitted to wear their hair in a vast array of hairstyles and in varying lengths.
Perhaps the dismissal of Gbajiamilla for allegedly sporting an "extreme" hairdo and the image of Abercombie & Fitch can be better understood when you examine the man behind the store's "classic" look.
(One of the two civil rights attorneys working on the case is my daughter Sanjukta Paul. You can listen to an interview with the lawyers, Lisa Holder and Sanjukta on KPFK radio, San Diego. (you have to wait a bit for the interview to begin). Here is a report in the L.A. Weekly which leaves nothing to the imagination by beginning the article by invoking Hitlerian aesthetics right off the bat.)