Wet Seal Slapped with Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

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Back in 2008, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks designed her own clothing line for Wet Seal. Today, the company is facing a racial discrimination lawsuit filed on Thursday by some of its former managers. As reported by The New York Times, the lawsuit alleges that the company has a high-level policy of firing and denying pay increases and promotions to its African-American employees because they do not fit its “brand image.”

The managers who filed the lawsuit include Nicole Cogdell, a former manager of the King of Prussia, PA, Wet Seal store, and Kai Hawkins, a former manager of the Cherry Hill, NJ, store. Ms. Codgell said she overheard Wet Seal’s Senior VP, Barbara Bachman, briefing a district manager that she wanted a manager with “blond hair and blue eyes.”

CNN has this report:

As for evidence, the lawsuit includes a copy of an e-mail dating back to March 2009 that was sent by Bachman to lower-level managers after she went to inspect several stores. The e-mail had this subject: “African American dominate – huge issue.” Ms. Bachman left Wet Seal in 2011.

Kai Hawkins, another plaintiff, said she was ordered by her district manager to hire more white employees or get terminated. Ms. Hawkins stated that she was offended by the e-mail and that she witnessed many black employees get “terminated, despite doing a good job and without any explanation.”

Aside from back pay issues and general and punitive damages, the lawsuit also seeks class-action status on behalf of current and former black managers.

Wet Seal’s camp released a statement on Thursday:

“Wet Seal is an equal-opportunity employer with a very diverse workforce and customer base. We deny any and all allegations of race discrimination and will vigorously defend this matter.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Brad Seligman, who also served as a lead lawyer on the sex discrimination lawsuit against major retailer Wal-Mart that sought class-action status on behalf of more than 1.5 million women (which included current and former Wal-Mart employees).

This is huge.  Do you think Wet Seal will get away with this?  Share your thoughts.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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