Byline: Vicki M. Young

NEW YORK — An African-American employee of Coach Stores Inc. filed a race discrimination suit against the leather accessories manufacturer, seeking class action status for herself and other African-American and Latino employees.
The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, charges Coach with racially discriminatory employment policies and practices in violation of federal law. Also named in the suit is Sara Lee Corp., Coach’s parent.
Marva Brown, 45, has been a receptionist at Coach’s headquarters in New York since August 1988, according to the suit. Brown said in the suit that she has never been promoted, even though the non-minority employees she has trained have been promoted. She said her supervisors told her that she is “too valuable in her current position to be promoted.”
Brown charged Coach with encouraging minority employees to leave or terminating them before the fifth anniversary of their employment, when pension rights would be vested. The suit said minority employees who remain are encouraged to transfer to Coach’s factory and distribution center in New Jersey.
Brown is seeking a promotion to an appropriate position, company-paid training, compensatory damages of $250,000 and punitive damages of $300,000.
Late last year, Coach was hit with another discrimination suit by an ex-employee. The plaintiff, Yvette Cruz, was fired after an incident involving Coach’s coordinator of facilities, according to court papers.
Cruz, who is Hispanic, also said she was subjected to verbal and physical harassment since 1992, and that her termination was part of Coach’s pattern of terminating minority employees or forcing them to resign before they were vested in pension coverage.
Coach’s attorney, Lauren Brody of Rosenman & Colin, said the company “doesn’t believe there is any merit to the cases.” She said Coach will soon file papers to dismiss the Cruz lawsuit, and that it is likely the company will do the same with the Brown lawsuit.
Maxine Fechter, Coach’s vice president of human resources, said Wednesday that Coach’s philosophy is to “treat all employees with a high degree of dignity and respect.” Fechter also said Coach has a “reputation for fairness and equality.”