BEBE HIT BY WORKER LAWSUIT
Byline: Kristin Young
BEVERLY HILLS — Seven Chinese garment workers filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against Bebe Stores Inc. and its contractor Apex Clothing Co., alleging that the companies subjected them to “harassment, ridicule, intimidation and threats” as well as substandard wages.
The complaint also stated that the seven women were wrongfully terminated and later blacklisted to prevent them from getting other jobs in the Los Angeles garment industry. Julie Su, litigation director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, who filed the claim on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the workers were paid by piece rate. “The piece rate arbitrarily changed,” she said during a press conference here in front of a Bebe store. “The faster they worked the lower the piece rate got.” The workers said they suffered abusive working conditions. One told of owners yelling and calling them “pigs” and “cows.”
The workers — most of whom started working for the El Monte, Calif., contractor between November 2000 and April 2001 — claim they were wrongfully terminated last August. Su said workers’ pictures were then posted on a wall outside of the factory with the intention of warning other factories not to hire them.
The workers are seeking back pay and unspecified damages for pain and suffering, an amount that would be determined through a discovery process, Su said.
“[Bebe] operates as manufacturers, as to how their designs are produced. They may call themselves a retailer to avoid liability, but as our case will show, they can’t do it,” said Su, who brought the case forward under the Fair Labor Standards Act and California labor codes. Su maintained that Bebe is the plaintiffs’ employer based on the amount of control they had over the contractor and workers.
Edmund Chen, son of Apex owner Katy Chen, said his mother will fight the suit and painted another picture altogether. He said some of the workers made up to $1,000 a week and some were terminated for angry outbursts, with one incident requiring help from local police, while others were terminated for refusing to sew specific types of work.
“The employees are just trying to conspire against our company,” he said. “All seven of them have sued previous companies.”
At Bebe’s headquarters in Brisbane, Calif., president John Parros said: “We haven’t seen the lawsuit yet, so we can’t comment on it. However, we’re concerned about all people who manufacture our wearing apparel, and we have an enforcement program in place to make sure that our goods are manufactured in compliance with labor laws in California and the U.S.”
Bebe operates 159 stores in the U.S. and generates some $290 million in annual sales.