Abercrombie & Fitch takes its employees' looks seriously. Wearing black is not allowed, nail polish is discouraged, and flight attendants on the corporate jet even have to wear a specific kind of underwear.
But Abercrombie's "look policy" is more than a piece of shopping-mall micromanagement—it's at the center of a major Supreme Court case about religious discrimination in the workplace.
The court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in the case of Samantha Elauf, who was denied a job at an Abercrombie store because of the headscarf she wears as a practicing Muslim. Abercrombie says it didn't have to make an exception to its "look policy" for Elauf because she didn't specifically ask for one—while her lawyers say it shouldn't be up to job candidates to ask for religious accommodations.
Elauf applied for a job as a model at Abercrombie Kids—all the company's sales-floor personnel are hired as models—in 2008, when she was 17.
The assistant manager who interviewed Elauf was impressed and wanted to hire her, but wasn't sure whether Elauf's headscarf would violate the company's look policy. So she asked a more senior manager, who told her the scarf was a deal-breaker and not to hire Elauf.
The look policy is intense. It specifies appropriate hairstyles for employees, prohibits long fingernails, says that men cannot wear facial hair or jewelry, and requires employees to wear clothes that "fit the brand and set the example of the brand lifestyle." And at the time, it prohibited wearing hats—which the managers interpreted as also banning headscarves.