Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights Act’

via Flickr user KeithBurtis

via Flickr user KeithBurtis

Last week I read a Time magazine article about a young lady who tried to get a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch store.  She didn’t get the job – and found out later that it was because she wears a hijab.  She wears this for religious reasons, so she has filed a lawsuit for discrimination based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This isn’t such a black and white issue, however.  In 1972 the Civil Rights Act was amended to include the definition of religion.  Part of that definition says that companies have to demonstrate that accommodating the religious belief would cause “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”  When you consider that Abercrombie & Fitch’s MO is to sell clothes with sexy, scantily clad youths,  a covered-up employee isn’t exactly aligned with their branding. 

Okay, enough of my amateur attempt to break down the law based on the one article I read…because dissecting the law is not my point.  The reason this article caught my eye is because it made me wonder what happened to Abercrombie & Fitch’s leadership.  According to the Time article I mentioned above, Abercrombie & Fitch has some other pending lawsuits related to discrimination.  So if they really felt like certain employees (potential or current) had an image that would cause them to lose a significant amount of business…it seems like these lawsuits might have negated those costs by now.

In business, we see a whole lot of decisions based on meeting existing rules or laws.  We spend a lot of time and money arguing in courtrooms over the connotation of certain words.  And we try really hard to interpret rules in such a way that we benefit the most from them.  Is that what leadership is really about, though?  I certainly don’t think so.  Leadership is about going beyond the laws and being better than the limit set for you.  Think of it this way – that’s the limitWe’re not supposed to exceed it.  The limit is the worst you’re allowed to be while still being okay.  If you’re meeting the limit then you’re just skimming by. 

Leaders should be setting a higher standard than that.  We should be doing things because they’re right, and because we want to move our companies and society in a positive direction.  How else can we grow, or encourage others to grow?

So what do you think – should we follow the law or do one better?


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