Philipp Plein is again finding himself in court, this time over allegations that he openly discriminates against gay employees.
A former Plein regional manager, Amro Alsoleibi, sued the fashion designer and the American arm of his brand in a New York court, claiming he was discriminated against in the workplace and retaliated against, ultimately resulting in his wrongful firing. The lawsuit comes just a few months after Plein lost a high-profile trademark lawsuit with Ferrari, an outcome the German designer attempted to bargain away by proposing a donation to Black Lives Matter causes — if Ferrari would drop its claims. The lawsuit arose after Plein used Ferraris without that company’s permission in one of his typically over-the-top fashion presentations.
In the new lawsuit, Alsoleibi, who spent just over a year as a regional manager for Plein’s stores in the New York City area, accuses the designer of making repeated homophobic comments to him and allegedly other gay employees, and of canceling his health care and eventually terminating his employment in retaliation for his sexuality, as well as it becoming known that Alsoleibi is HIV-positive. Before working for Plein, Alsoleibi worked for more than a decade in sales and management for a number of luxury brands, including Chloé, Etro, Fendi and Valentino.
“At the time Mr. Alsoleibi started working for Philipp Plein Americas, Plein was not aware of the fact that plaintiff was gay, or of his HIV-positive status,” the complaint reads. “Very early in Mr. Alsoleibi’s employment, Plein started to be transparent with his distaste for gay men, saying, ‘I hate to work with gays.’”
Alsoleibi claims Plein made other similar comments in the workplace, and when Alsoleibi allegedly started to point out in mid-2018 that they were offensive, Plein only continued. He allegedly would describe generally things he disliked as being “too gay,” said explicitly about hiring for his stores “don’t hire gays” and on one occasion to Alsoleibi, “stop moving your hips like a gay person.”
Alsoleibi claims that such negative comments and treatment of gay employees relative to the treatment of heterosexual employees was “pattern and practice, across the entire company.” He named a gay stock clerk who works for the brand in California who said Plein told him “you cannot be too gay” and work for him because the men who shop Philipp Plein “are 100 percent heterosexual.” Another gay sales associate alleged Plein told him “if you are too gay you are unwelcome.”
“[Plein] frequently affirmed and fostered the macho and toxic masculinity image of his business,” Alsoleibi said in his complaint. “He was very clear that this preference was not just for business branding, but also that all managers and employees must fit a certain stereotype in order to work for him.”
Through his spokesperson Carmine Rotondaro, Plein firmly rejected the allegations, calling them “baseless and defamatory.” He contended the allegations of “anti-gay discrimination feelings and conduct…never existed, never happened and never had any place, neither in the heart of Mr. Plein nor in any part of his company.”
Plein claimed he “has always been very close to the LGBTQ community both inside and outside of his company and, already in 2013, he chose to express and communicate publicly such a proximity throughmy global advertising campaign featuring transsexual model Lea T and two male models kissing each other. Since then, members of LGBTQ community have been very often present and always welcome in Mr. Plein’s communication, campaigns, advertising and fashion shows.”
The designer said his group widely employs members of the LGBTQ community and “is very proud of its inclusive, diverse and cohesive working environment and of all the employees who contributed to its success, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
In his lawsuit, Alsoleibi claims that around the time he began to openly note the offensive nature of Plein’s remarks and make formal complaints, the company allegedly sent him a “warning letter” regarding his performance, which he said was merely to build “pretext” for his eventual firing. He claims that during his management, Plein stores under his region reached $12 million in annual sales.
His termination came to pass in early 2019, not long after Alsoleibi claims he was refused a request to take time off under New York’s Paid Family Leave Act policy to see his dying father in Syria and the brand suddenly canceled his health insurance, forcing him to disclose his urgent need for medical coverage given his HIV-positive condition. It was reinstated, but this allegedly forced disclosure led the company to “intrusively monitor” his health and use “assumptions of his health” to prevent him from performing the duties for his job, such as regional travel. Then his clothing allowance was taken away without explanation and he was boxed out of dealings and work related to the opening of two brand stores that would have fallen under his regional purview.
“Alsoleibi was terminated as a direct result of his sexual orientation and HIV-positive status, and was in retaliation for his multiple complaints about defendants’ unlawful employment policies and hostile work environment,” the complaint said.
He is seeking a number of remedies from the court, including unspecified damages, front and back pay, emotional distress, wrongful termination, hostile work environment, discrimination and harassment. He’s also asked that the court find Plein in violation of New York State Human Rights Law and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Philipp Plein’s denial of the allegations contained in the lawsuit.