The Wet Seal Inc. agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit that alleged managers were told to fire African-American employees and hire and promote white workers who fit the Wet Seal brand image.
Under the settlement, Wet Seal agreed to “post open positions, implement new selection criteria and interview protocols, revamp its annual performance reviews and compensation structure, add regional human resources directors, implement more diversity and inclusion communications and training for field and corporate office employees, and enhance its investigations training and processes.”
Wet Seal said it is committed to using diverse models in its marketing.
Lead-plaintiff Nicole Cogdell filed the suit in Santa Ana federal court in July, charging that the company had a general policy and practice of discriminating against nonwhite employees, which included lower pay rates, limited promotion opportunities and the firing of African-American store managers based on their race.
The suit alleged the company insisted on “a ‘brand’ or ‘image’ of its employees that predominately reflects a white image, an image reinforced by Wet Seal’s advertising.”
Plaintiffs cited an e-mail from Barbara Bachman, former senior vice president of store operations, who after a store tour wrote, “Store teams — need diversity African-Americans dominate — huge issue.”
Cogdell, an African-American store manager, who was told she would be laid off after the store visit, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2009.
She was ultimately not fired and brought her case to federal court last year, at what was a time of significant turmoil for the company. Comparable-store sales fell 15.6 percent that July, the same month chief executive officer Susan McGalla was fired. Activist shareholders were pressuring the retailer and ultimately succeeded in rejiggering its board.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that the company’s managers openly stated they wanted employees who had “the Armani look, were white, had blue eyes, thin and blonde in order to be profitable.”
It is illegal for employers to base hiring decisions on race, but image-conscious retail might be especially prone to pushing the line.
Cogdell’s attorney, Nancy DeMis, said fashion is an industry where “people are accustomed to making judgments based on people’s looks” and that some companies are beginning to “really push back on letting that slide into discrimination.”
“You have to be vigilant,” DeMis said. “You have to be introspective, and you have to keep in mind that the law does not allow you to make that kind of decision about your workforce. Unless you show that it’s a bona-fide occupational qualification, those are not the kinds of distinctions that you are allowed to make.”
DeMis said Wet Seal has committed to making real change and should be a model for other companies. The retailer also worked with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to create a diversity program last year.
“From the moment I became [ceo] of Wet Seal in January, I made clear that we value a diverse workforce and believe that a dynamic and representative employee base allows us to best serve all of our customers,” said John D. Goodman. “We are pleased to put this matter behind us.”
Money from the settlement could go to as many as 1,600 people who have worked at Wet Seal.
@kith is moving into children’s. The men’s and women’s streetwear brand has launched Kidset, a Kith kids line located in New York at 64 Bleecker Street. The line includes mini versions of staple Kith pieces like the Astor bomber jacket and the Kith box logo sweatshirts, along with a wall that can display up to 120 pairs of shoes from @adidas, @newbalance, @timberland and more. #wwdfashion
“I just wanted to create this fully rounded character, but I do think what excited me most was just the opportunity to give a group of people representation that I feel needs it. I like to do characters in projects that stand for something and Karolina definitely does, so that was really exciting to me,” @ginnygardner says of her new role in @hulu’s “The Runaways.” Gardner plays Karolina Dean, a queer superhero, which is a rarity for @marvel. Read more about Gardner’s character on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @dandoperalski)
@heriethpaul and @gracebol have a moment on the @victoriassecret fashion show 2017. See every look from the runway on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo) #wwdfashion #victoriassecret #VSFashionShow
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia