Oscar Feldenkreis is on the receiving end of a multicount lawsuit alleging violations of various human rights laws as he nears becoming the chief executive officer of Perry Ellis International Inc.
Feldenkreis is president and chief operating officer of the company. He becomes ceo on Feb. 1, a day after his father, George, relinquishes the ceo post when his employment contract expires. George Feldenkreis will stay on as company chairman. The splitting of the chairman and ceo roles has been seen as a move to head off what could have been a proxy fight from activist investors, Legion Partners Holdings and the California State Teacher’s Retirement System, back in May, shortly before the firm’s annual shareholders’ meeting. At the time of the disclosure of the planned executive changes, George Feldenkreis said the changes were made because “it is time to get up with what is today considered good [corporate] governance.”
The lawsuit, filed in a Manhattan federal court Wednesday by Joseph T. Cook, alleges seven causes of action against Feldenkreis and the company. One cause of action alleges retaliation in violation of section 1981 of the federal Civil Rights Act. The others involve a cause of action claiming violations of either New York State or New York City human rights law against either Feldenkreis or Feldenkreis and the company.
In the lawsuit, Cook said he is a 49-year old gay senior executive of Perry Ellis, and is president of the wholesale division of Original Penguin. Cook, who reports to Oscar Feldenkreis, said in the complaint that he has been “forced to endure highly offensive homophobic, racial and ethnic slurs” by the president, whom he reports to. The lawsuit also charged that the company and Feldenkreis have a mandate that there be “no blacks in my ads” or “anyone who looked too gay.”
Cook’s complaint also said that the “dominant family control at both the management and board levels’ enables the discriminatory behavior,” citing as an example Fanny Hanono, executive vice president of administration, who has oversight of human resources and is Feldenkreis’ sister. He also referenced an employee meeting in which George Feldenkreis switched from speaking English to Spanish and said to the mostly English-speaking employees, “All you Gringos need to learn Spanish.”
Cook said the company and its executive management have “orchestrated a campaign designed to isolate and exclude him and significantly weaken his role within the company.” He also charged in the lawsuit that the “discriminatory environment in the midst of ongoing retaliation has impacted both [his] physical and emotional health.”
The lawsuit seeks injunctive and monetary damages, among other relief.
Neither a company spokesman nor Feldenkreis responded to requests for comment.