Teen clothing brand Wet Seal has reached a $7.5 million settlement over allegations that it horrendously discriminated against employees of color, because they didn’t have the “white,” “blue eye,” “thin and blond” look the brand wanted, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Three former managers filed the lawsuit last year, accusing the nationwide retail chain of actively firing and denying raises and promotions to black workers. One plaintiff, former manager Kai Hawkins, said that her boss threatened to fire her unless she hired more white employees. Another, Nicole Codgell, claimed that she was fired the day after the company’s senior vice president for store operations toured several outlets and sent an email to lower managers, “African American dominate — huge issue.”
The lawsuit also accused senior vice president Barbara Bachman of commanding managers to “lighten up” the staff in stores serving mainly white customers, and telling one regional manager that she must have “lost her mind” to put a black person in charge of a certain store.
Wet Seal had denied the allegations. The company, calling the settlement a “no-fault resolution of the case,” agreed to pay at least $5.58 million in damages to current and former African American managers, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, which was co-counsel in the suit. As part of the settlement, Wet Seal, which has over 7,000 employees, must also track applications to ensure diversity in hiring, expand its human resources department, post management openings, and regularly report on the hiring, promotions and firings of minority employees.
“Being targeted for termination from a job I loved because of my race was a nightmare,” Cogdell said in a statement. “… Wet Seal has now committed to strong, fair policies because we took a stand. I hope these changes will create opportunities for all deserving employees, regardless of their race.”
This isn’t an isolated case in the retail industry, where the pursuit of a specific “brand image” can end up leaving many out. “There’s sort of an assumption about what the employees who interact with the customers have to look like,” ReNika Moore, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s economic justice group, told AOL Jobs. “And there’s a bias and prejudice that’s filtering into these workspaces, and it’s really acting as a barrier for workers of color to advance.”
African Americans and people of color should boycott this tacky and cheap clothing retailer. Their revenues are already sinking. Taking our dollars away from their business (and others) will be the nail in the coffin in this poor economy. They need to get the message.
I received this decision from the AAA on April 18, 2013. This entire time, I thought these pleadings had to be kept private, but only the award does. I should have known especially since the Arbitrator denied William Morris’ request for a protective order!!
Here’s “Exhibit A” (pages 1 and 17 are mysteriously missing from the record at the Southern District of New York):