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California Discrimination Case Results in $7.5M Settlement

May 28, 2013

Foothill Ranch-based teen clothing retailer Wet Seal has recently agreed to pay $7.5 million in order to settle a claim of racial discrimination. colorfultops2.jpg The company was accused of firing a host of black workers so that it could present blond-haired, blue-eyed employees as the front of its brand. Los Angeles Discrimination Attorney Vincent Howard of HOWARD LAW has been appalled by the alleged actions of the company, but not necessarily surprised. Such actions aren't even all that unique.

Consider an interviews given by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries, who kicked up a firestorm affirming that his company doesn't cater to anyone larger than a size 10. Employees are hired on the basis of their looks, and it's been reported that some undergo regular measuring sessions and must adhere to a certain fitness regime to get back in shape if they fail to meet the appropriate physical standards - or face being fired.

That company has faced numerous lawsuits alleging discrimination in hiring.

And now, a federal court judge in Colorado has ruled that the 250 Abercrombie and subsidiary Hollister stores failed to provide appropriate for disabled customers, per the regulations outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. A number of complaints were compiled into a class action, specifically targeting the faux-porch steps at the entrance of many stores. These entryways bar limited-access customers from entry.

In the case of Wet Seal, the lawsuit alleged that top executives at the firm denied both equal promotion opportunities and pay to black store managers. In many cases, they were outright removed without cause and subsequently replaced with white workers.

In December, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wrapped up a three-year investigation, concluding that the company actively sought a "Barbie and Ken" look for its workers, and thus ousted workers who failed to meet that standard of beauty - i.e., those who were black.

At least $5.6 million of the settlement will go directly to cover damages to current and former black Wet Seal managers. Additionally, the firm has agreed to make a number of changes to its employment process. Those include the promise to track applications that will ensure diversity in hiring and an expansion of the company's human resources department, which would ultimately allow for more thorough investigations of any similar claims in the future. A council of advisors on equal employment will also be maintained.

California law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers or job applicants on the basis of:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • Religion;
  • National origin;
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth or any related medical condition);
  • Disability (either physical or mental);
  • Age (40 and older);
  • Genetic information;
  • Sexual orientation or identity;
  • Marital status;
  • Medical condition;
  • Political affiliations or activities.

Although still refusing to admit fault, Wet Seal released a statement saying it was "appreciative of the insights gained from the plaintiffs' counsel and the EEOC."

Los Angeles Employment Attorney VINCENT HOWARD at HOWARD LAW can help. Call toll-free at 1-800-872-5925 or send us a message online.

Additional Resources: Wet Seal to pay $7.5 million to settle race discrimination suit, May 9, 2013, By Tiffany Hsu, The Los Angeles Times

More Blog Entries: Former Hooters Waitress Files Wrongful Termination Lawsuit, April 25, 2013, Los Angeles Discrimination Lawyer Blog