A Fresh Inc. human resources employee must arbitrate her workplace discrimination suit against the beauty and skin-care company and its parent LVMH Inc., a New York federal court ruled Tuesday.
Kharisma McNeil had claimed in her suit that as an African-American woman with medical issues, she has been overlooked for promotions and pay raises while working as an office services manager at Fresh, a position she still holds. Her suit made claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which governs workplace discrimination, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The defendants have denied her discrimination claims.
In her lawsuit in December, McNeil acknowledged that her claims would ordinarily have to be arbitrated as part of her employment agreement, but argued the defendants violated the agreement because they didn’t pay the arbitration fees in time to start the process. The defendants paid the fees about two weeks after they received notice of McNeil’s arbitration claim, according to court documents.
On Tuesday, a New York federal judge wrote that doesn’t necessarily show that Fresh and LVMH violated the agreement, and that the question itself should be for an arbitrator to decide.
“This case is in the earliest stages of litigation,” the judge wrote in Tuesday’s ruling. “The court therefore holds, with defendants, that McNeil’s arguments regarding the waiver or breach of the arbitration agreement are properly asserted, in the first instance, before the arbitrator.”
McNeil had filed the suit in federal court after filing the customary administrative complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which reviews discrimination claims, and getting the agency’s go-ahead to sue in federal court.
Her claims center around allegedly being sidelined at work because of her race and disability status. Besides missing out on promotions, she claimed she was also marginalized in other ways, such as when she returned from work after a three-month disability leave following surgery complications, and given a different work space than her usual office.
She characterized her experience as reflecting broader concerns about workplace dynamics at the French luxury brand, which she claimed even a supervisor had acknowledged.
“Plaintiff expressed to Lee how the culture at Fresh Inc. gave the perception of French supremacy,” McNeil wrote in her complaint, referring to Hannah Lee, director of human resources at Fresh, whom she also named in the suit. “Defendant Lee agreed with plaintiff on that point. Lee said that she had heard that comment previously from other employees and that she was getting a lot of feedback about that perception.”
The defendants have denied her allegations.
“Fresh is committed to ensuring a fair and non-discriminatory environment for all our employees,” a representative for Fresh said in a statement Wednesday. “We reviewed the matter and found no evidence that any discrimination or retaliation occurred. We look forward to making that clear through the arbitration process.”
An attorney for McNeil could not be reached for comment Wednesday.