LOS ANGELES — Abercrombie & Fitch fired back at plaintiffs Wednesday, vowing to fight a federal lawsuit filed earlier this week that accuses the retailer of racial discrimination.

“The allegations in the lawsuit that has been filed against Abercrombie & Fitch in San Francisco are baseless and without merit,” said a company statement. “As a company that prides itself on diversity, we are dismayed by the lawsuit and plan to vigorously defend our company’s good name and practices in a court of law.”

Nine students, including six former employees and three job applicants, filed the lawsuit late Monday in U.S. District Court of Northern California, claiming the retailer often does not hire Latino, Asian-American and African-American employees, and has fired them on the basis of race.

The lawsuit claims the New Albany, Ohio-based firm enforces an “appearance policy” that requires all employees to have an “A&F look,” or “a virtually all-white image that Abercrombie uses to market its clothing.”

The plaintiffs — five Latinos and four Asian Americans — convened at a news conference here Tuesday and spoke of corporate “blitzes,” or visits to several California stores by regional, district managers and corporate representatives. The claim states these visits were to “direct that minority brand representatives be fired, moved to a stockroom or overnight shift or have their hours ‘zeroed out,’ which is the equivalent of termination.”

According to A&F’s statement: “Associates represent American style. America is diverse, and we want diversity in our stores. We do not discriminate. Our policy is to have zero tolerance for discrimination in hiring or employment on the basis of race, national origin, ancestry, religion, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, medical condition, marital status or any characteristic protected by state or federal law.”

The lawsuit was born out of a complaint filed by one of the plaintiffs, Juancarlos Gomez-Montejano, at the Los Angeles branch of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionin December 1999.

“There is reason to believe that violations have occurred,” stated a letter on behalf of the EEOC attached to the lawsuit.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, including back pay for the former employees.A&F, operating about 600 stores with annual sales of $1.6 billion, has taken some heat lately. A class-action lawsuit filed in June accuses the retailer of violating a California uniform law by requiring store employees to purchase and wear its brands on the store floor, an expense the law says the employer should pick up. And then there was the controversy last year over A&F T-shirts featuring caricatures of Asian men wearing rice paddy hats with the slogan, “Wong Brothers Laundry Service — Two Wongs can make it white.” The retailer subsequently pulled the shirts and issued a public apology.

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