All Articles Tagged "race discrimination"
When Looks Matter: Wet Seal, Abercrombie & Fitch And The Reality Of Appearance-Based Discrimination By Retailers
According to published reports, Wet Seal Inc., the chain-retail store headquartered in Foothill Ranch, Calif., will have to pay $7.5 million dollars to settle a racial-discrimination lawsuit, which had been filed by three black women, who accused the chain clothing store of terminating them because they did not fit the brand image.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, evidence in the lawsuit included e-mails and witness testimony from former Wet Seal managers, which “allegedly showed high-level Wet Seal executives instructing managers to fire African American employees, and “diversify” by hiring and promoting white employees “who fit the Wet Seal brand image.” The case was also bolstered by a ruling by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which determined that Wet Seal had racially discriminated against one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. However, the Inquirer reports that Wet Seal denies the allegations in the lawsuit and calls the settlement a “no-fault resolution of the case.”
The settlement may put to bed this particular racial discrimination case, but it also sheds light on a rarely discussed practiced form of appearance-based discrimination. This idea that it is okay to exclude individuals, whose physical characteristics do not fit the standard of a business or other organization, is the basis of all forms of discrimination including racial, gender-based, and sexual orientation-based discrimination. And while Wet Seal denies culpability in racial-discrimination practices, the idea that the retail chain might have been looking to promote and hire based on its physical image is equally as troubling. And if true, unfortunately, they would not be alone in the practice.
Just last week, Business Insider reported on Abercrombie & Fitch’s refusal to make clothing in sizes XL or XXL for women (nor does it carry women’s pants sizes larger than a 10), and according to retail analyst Robin Lewis, Mike Jeffries, CEO of the retail clothing chain, only wants “thin and beautiful” people shopping in his store. The Business Insider story also referenced a 2006 piece in Salon, in which Jeffries was quoted as saying the following:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Jeffries’ business acumen of projecting and appealing to an “exclusive” clientele might be at the source of how the clothing chain store found itself dead smack at the center of two private class action lawsuits filed by nine former employees, who accused Abercrombie & Fitch of discrimination against Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, and women. According to published reports, the plaintiffs said that they were prohibited from working the sales floor because they did not fit the “Abercrombie look,” and instead were told to work in back storage rooms. The suit was settled in 2004 for $50 million dollars and a Consent Decree, which legally enjoined Abercrombie & Fitch to develop and implement internal policies and procedures, which guarded against discriminating against applicants based upon race, color and gender.
More and more, states and local municipalities are growing hip to the subtle ways in which discrimination operates, including Michigan, which became the first state to add weight and height to its anti-discrimination employment laws, and Washington D.C., which prohibits all forms of personal appearance discrimination. While wanting to project an exclusive image is not unusual in brand marketing, particularly the marketing of apparel, when a company sets its sights on appealing to such a niche market, it opens itself up to creating and perpetuating an environment where prejudice is acceptable. Nowadays, you don’t have to say blacks and Hispanics are not welcome – you can just decline employment, or even a customer base, from those with certain physical attributes, such as body shape, hairstyles, or who don’t look like the cool kids in high school – unless of course you went to a high school with black and Hispanic people in it.
Meyer Tool, an engine parts manufacturer based in Cincinnati, has agreed to pay $325,000 in back wages and interest to 60 African-American workers who were rejected for entry-level machinist positions. The company reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, putting an end to the race-discrimination case.
According to Fox 19 in Cincinnati, the OFCCP “found that Meyer Tool didn’t give equal consideration without regard to race to qualified job applicants.” In addition to the cash payment, the company will offer 11 of the applicants positions and training to all employees.
The company still hasn’t copped to doing anything wrong, and continued to defend itself through its legal representation.
“Meyer Tool has made changes to its recordkeeping procedures and carefully monitors those procedures to ensure this does not occur again,” said Colleen Lewis, a partner at Dinsmore. “As always, Meyer Tool Company remains committed to Equal Employment Opportunity and diversity.”
The case has been going on for seven years and, according to Lewis, this will put an end to the case and the expense.
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