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Former Store Managers Sue Wet Seal for Racial Discrimination

August 6, 2012

In recent Orange County, California employment law news, three former managers from the teenage apparel chain Wet Seal, have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the company for allegedly maintaining a high level of racial bias against African American workers.

According to the Santa Ana discrimination lawsuit that Vincent Howard has been watching, the Foothill Ranch-based clothing company, operating both Wet Seal and Arden B. stores, is being accused of adopting a policy of denying equal pay and promotion opportunities to black employees, and firing them in order to hire white employees who fit the company's image better.

The discrimination lawsuit was reportedly filed in Santa Ana federal court on behalf of two former store managers and one former assistant manager of Wet Seal, along with more than 250 managerial Wet Seal employees who seek class action status--accusing the company of racial discrimination that was present at the highest corporate levels. The lawsuit reportedly pointed to email from 2009 as evidence, sent by then CEO and Senior Vice President of Store Operations, Barbara Bachman, after she visited stores in the Philadelphia and Maryland area. The email reportedly stated that the large presence of African American employees in the stores was a big problem, and the stores' black employees needed to be cleaned out.

Nicole Cogdell, a former employee and plaintiff in the suit, claimed that she was fired in March of 2009, the that day Bachman sent the email, and one month after she visited the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania store. Cogdell, an African American, stated that she and two other sales employees overhead Bachman saying that managers should have blue eyes and blonde hair in order to fit the image of the retailer. Bachman then reportedly threatened to fire the district manager in Philadelphia unless Cogdell was fired. After Cogdell was fired, she claims that she was replaced by a white employee who had less experience and was compensated more--even though Cogdell had been promoted to store manager two months prior to the incident.

Kai Hawkins, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, who worked managing a Wet Seal store in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was reportedly told to bring in non-African American workers in an attempt to diversify the staff. She was then threatened with job termination unless she fulfilled the request in a 30-day deadline. Hawkins claims that in March 2009, the job hiring decisions were taken away from her to ensure that white workers were hired.

As attorney Vincent Howard reported in a previous Costa Mesa, California employment lawyers blog, according Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination based on race or color in regard to job hiring, advancements, employment termination, training, or any other conditions or terms of employment and training is against the law.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Brad Seligman, stated that the California company's discrimination policy was explicit, and was clearly stated in emails and notes from Wet Seal's highest-ranking executives. The lawsuit seeks back payment and benefits, along with punitive damages and other remedies.

Last week in an update that Vincent Howard has been following, Wet Seal's board of directors terminated the employment of the company's current CEO, Susan McGalla effectively immediately and is currently searching for her replacement.

In cities throughout Orange County, California and Southern California, contact Vincent Howard at Howard Law, PC today.

3 former Wet Seal managers file discrimination lawsuit, The Los Angeles, Times, July 13, 2012

Former employees accuse Wet Seal of discrimination in lawsuit, Los Angeles Wave, July 17, 2012

UPDATE 1-Wet Seal sued by ex-managers for alleged racial bias, Reuters, July 13, 2012

LDF: Wet Seal Clothing Store Chain Executives Fire African-American Employees For Sake of "Diversity" and "Brand Image", Market Watch/WSJ, July 12, 2012

O.C. clothing retailer fires CEO, Orange County Register, July 25, 2012

Related Web Resources:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC: Laws Enforced by EEOC

Facts About Race/Color Discrimination, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC

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