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.
My character, Dinah Madani, is just the coolest, [most] badass woman imaginable," says @amberroserevah. The actress stars in @marvel's newest series on @netflix, @thepunisher. To prepare for her role, Revah sat down with Homeland agents to get a real sense of with Dinah's day-to-day life is really like. Read our full interview on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
A scene from the 91st annual @macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade, which boasts 50 million TV viewers and 3.5 million on-site spectators, is considered one of the largest and most watched parades in the world. (📷: Jason Szenes/EPA-REX)
The circus came to @bloomingdales 59th Street on Tuesday night and lit up Lexington Avenue with acrobatic dancers, death-defying knife throwing, sword swallowing and aerial acts with no net. The 45 minutes of theatrics built up to unveiling the holiday windows depicting @swarovski crystal-encrusted circus pieces and scenes from “The Greatest Showman” – songs from the soundtrack included. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Joshua Scott)
The psychedelic fashion that pervaded the ’60s is back with an exhibit at the @museumofcityny. “Mode New York: Fashion Takes a Trip” chronicles the changing styles from 1960 through 1973 and features designers such as @ysl, @oscardelarenta and more. The exhibition, which is on display through April 1, is organized into four periods: First Lady Fasion, Youthquake, New Bohemia and New Nonchalance. Pictured here is model Pat Bardonella during the Garvey Day Parade in 1968. (📷: @kwamebphoto) #wwdeye #wwdfashion
“People should be a lot more honest in expressing both the dark and light of themselves. We need to give each other the space to do that because it’s the only way we can grow and evolve,” says @noelwells of her new film “Mr. Roosevelt,” which is largely based on her own struggles. Unexpectedly leaving @nbcsnl in 2014 after just one season, Wells felt set back in her self-esteem and career trajectory. She quickly refocused her energy to more personal projects, which led to the completion of “Mr. Roosevelt.” Read the rest of WWD’s interview with the “Master of None” actress on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
@barbrastreisand is giving fans a chance to see her perform up close in a new concert series, which makes its debut on @Netflix today. From behind-the-scenes takes to her concert performance in Miami last December, the two-hour streaming special captures Streisand in her element. Pictured here is the singer/actress photographed for WWD in 1963. (📷: Palmieri Tony) #wwdeye #wwdarchive
@chanel and @pharrell dropped what’s being dubbed as the world’s most exclusive sneakers yesterday. The Adidas Originals NMD Hu, which Williams designed in collaboration with Chanel and @adidasoriginals, has a waiting list of over 120K people who pre-registered online at chanelatcolette.fr –– and only 500 pairs are on sale. The singer predicted the resale value of the shoes could reach $40K. Read the full interview on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdfashion (📷: Dominique Maître)
@imanshumpert is diving deeper into his creative endeavors and relaunching his clothing line, Post 90s, and is helping to raise money for the hurricane victims in St. Maarten with a jersey he’s designed with his brother. The Cleveland Cavaliers player talked to WWD about kneeling during the national anthem, working with fashion brands and how he wants to be more than an @nba player. Read the interview on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)