NEW YORK — Saks Inc. is facing a potential class-action lawsuit accusing the company of illegally reducing the wages of its sales associates.

In a complaint filed on Sept. 22 in Manhattan federal court, Angel Vera, a former salesperson who worked in the shoe department at the company’s Fifth Avenue location from 1975 to 2000, accused Saks of accepting returns on items without receipts, then deducting a portion of the return from the compensation of employees in the department to which the item was returned.

Saks refused to comment on the matter.

According to the complaint, which seeks certification of the case as a class action due to the large numbers of employees affected, Saks’ wage reductions violate portions of New York State’s labor laws and fail to take into account that items returned without receipts might have been stolen or purchased from catalogues and the Internet, any of which would fail to produce a commission for any worker.

Also named as defendants in the suit are several union organizations, including the United Storeworkers and the AFL-CIO, who had approved the labor agreements.

According to the lawsuit, an earlier complaint had been filed against Saks in October 2000 and then dismissed in 2002. On appeal, Vera’s lawyers notified the union of the merits of their argument and asked that the union also take up the matter. The union refused, said the complaint, and thereby had “breached its duty of fair representation.”

The case seeks redress on six counts, including violations of state labor laws and violations of the labor management relations act. The suit asks that both parties pay an amount equal to the commission reductions plus interest dating back to when the practice was first initiated, as well as further damages.

Saks isn’t the only big-name retailer employing the practice, nor is it the only one facing suits because of it. Lawyers representing Vera also have two suits pending in New York State Supreme Court accusing numerous others of the same wage-reduction practices.

May Department Stores, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Sterns Department Stores, Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom all have been named in the complaints. In each case, the retailers are accused of spreading out the costs of unidentified returns among sales associates.

This story first appeared in the September 28, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

According to the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the cases, David Kert of the firm Kert & Welsh, after seven years, the case against Bloomingdale’s has been certified as a class action.