Class Action Lawsuit Advances, Claiming Abercrombie Employees Were Forced To Buy Abercrombie Clothes

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

An Abercrombie & Fitch employee in Chicago

On Thursday, a California federal judge certified a class action lawsuit for about 62,000 Abercrombie & Fitch employees who claim that they were illegally required to buy the company’s clothing for work.

Abercrombie’s “Look Policy” requires workers on the floor to wear “clothes, accessories and footwear that are similar in style and fit to the brand, and that are consistent with the current fashion season and colors” but that aren’t “clearly that of a competitor.” The plaintiffs also allege that some employees have been expressly told to buy the company’s clothes. The plaintiffs argue that the company’s policy, by essentially forcing them to buy certain clothes and then through managers who pressure employees into buying company clothes, violates California law that prohibits employers from “compel[ling] or coerc[ing] any employee…to patronize his or her employer, or any other person, in the purchase of any thing of value.”

In March, the company argued that the employees couldn’t constitute a class because 12 percent hadn’t bought any Abercrombie clothing and because its written policy doesn’t expressly state that workers have to buy its clothes. A spokesperson declined to comment on Thursday’s class certification.

The lawsuit also includes a subclass of minimum wage employees, who allege that by being made to essentially buy a company uniform out of their own pay without being reimbursed, their wages were driven below minimum wage and were essentially stolen by the company.

The class action lawsuit stems from a complaint filed by current California employees Alexander Brown and Arik Silva over a range of allegations that would constitute widespread wage theft, including a failure to provide rest breaks and a failure to give workers accurate wage statements. The plaintiffs allege that the company failed to give workers a ten-minute rest period for every four hours of work or compensate them for the lack of a break in violation of California law. But the court only certified the claims that relate to buying the company’s clothing on Thursday.

Abercrombie’s strict employee dress code has recently gotten it in other trouble. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman whom the company refused to hire because she wears a headscarf for religious reasons that violated its code. The court held that doing so ran afoul of federal law prohibiting employers from refusing to hire people based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” In a similar case in 2013, a U.S. district judge found that the company illegally fired Hani Khan, also a Muslim woman, for her hijab.

The company also paid $40 million in 2004 to settle a lawsuit that alleged its hiring practices kept Asian, Latino, and African-American employees out of visible sales positions and instead relegated them to back-room jobs.

The brand could soon come under fire for other practices. In April, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent a letter to Abercrombie & Fitch, along with other large retailers, questioning its scheduling practices. Schneiderman has been investigating whether these companies’ use of on-call shifts that require employees to call in right before to find out if they’re working, sometimes giving them just a few hours to find out whether they’re working, violates state law that requires them to give workers four hours’ worth of pay if they show up to work even if they are then sent home due to low demand.