Gianvito Rossi is pushing back against claims of racism and prejudice toward a black former employee and black customers, including tennis star Serena Williams.
Whitney Wilburn told a New York Supreme Court on Thursday that while she worked for the luxury shoe brand as a buyer and retail manager in Manhattan for about two years she was subject to hostile treatment “based on her race and age” from her manager, Grace Mazzilli, who is white.
A Gianvito Rossi spokeswoman based in Milan on Friday took issue with media outlets reporting on Wilburn’s complaint “without investigation and without even awaiting any reply” from the company, calling such actions “a mere hit job.”
“Even worse, the reporting impugned baselessly and carelessly the integrity of our incredible caring and diverse staff,” the spokeswoman said. “At the appropriate time and in the appropriate context Gianvito Rossi will reply [to the complaint] and be vindicated.”
After being recruited in 2015 to start a Gianvito Rossi boutique on Madison Avenue, Wilburn said when Mazzilli was brought in last spring as her superior, she was stripped of her buyer duties “for no legitimate business reason” without being directly informed.
In January, Wilburn claims she was terminated by Mazzilli “without providing any warning or formal evaluation” and then replaced by a “far less qualified and much younger white manager” who was also handed buyer duties.
“Only race and age bias accounted for this action, not any legitimate business reason,” Wilburn alleged in her complaint. “Wilburn’s experience with Mazzilli left no doubt about Mazzilli’s racial animosity towards African-Americans, and indeed no doubt that this animosity was approved of and ratified by other Gianvito Rossi managers.”
To support these claims, Wilburn recounted an instance where staff of Serena Williams asked for a discount on her “extensive purchases,” and claimed the Gianvito Rossi managers “responded with racially disparaging comments” like calling Williams “disgusting” and refused any discount.
Wilburn claims that it was only after a Vogue contact “pressured” the company that it offered a discount to Williams, but the discount was allegedly “only a fraction of the discount that white celebrities typically receive.”
Of this claim, the Gianvito spokeswoman said the brand “regrets that this former employee chose to conflate her own claims with allegations about our relationship with Ms. Serena Williams,” whom she referred to as an existing client.
“Gianvito Rossi has the pleasure of having relationships with international celebrities without any distinction,” the spokeswoman added.
A representative of Williams could not be immediately reached for comment.
Outside of the alleged Williams incident, Wilburn claimed Mazzilli generally tried to sabotage her work by not ensuring the same level of support staff given to white managers and blaming her for buying mistakes, while saying there are “many other examples” of improper and racially motivated conduct by Gianvito Rossi employees.
Although Wilburn claims to have protested and complained of the actions, “no corrective action was ever taken” and she claims she was terminated in retaliation.
Wilburn is seeking unspecified damages, including front and back pay and for emotional distress.
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