AF Justice Media Center
To read a copy of the Consent Decree among the parties to which the Court granted preliminary approval on November 16, 2004, please click here (Adobe Acrobat format).
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Abercrombie Lawsuit Attorney Profiles
Kelly M. Dermody, Esq.
Jahan Sagafi, Esq.
January 25, 2005
November 16, 2004
June 17, 2003
January 27, 2005
Daily Orange (Syracuse University Newspaper), “Minority groups sue Abercrombie for $40 million”
Katie Hollenbeck strolled the corridors of Carousel Mall trying to decide where she would like to apply for a new job. The junior graphic arts major walked into the Abercrombie & Fitch store, took one look at the female employees behind the counter and walked out. “They were all tall, skinny white girls, and I didn’t feel appropriate for the job,” she said. The intimidation that Hollenbeck, and many others feel, when walking into the retail-clothing store may not last for long. Abercrombie is about to undergo a major image change that won’t drop the gorgeous models from the payroll, but will work to end alleged discrimination by hiring more female and minority employees.
Abercrombie has agreed to settle a class-action discrimination lawsuit brought on by nine former employees who claimed they were fired, asked to work in back storage rooms or put on overnight shifts because they didn’t fit into the “Abercrombie look” enough to work on the sales floor during regular business hours.
“This case is extremely important because it’s a very large-name retailer and involves people of all colors,” said Minah Park, a staff attorney at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. APALC joined the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund and San Francisco law firm Leiff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, in the legal battle. The lawsuit was initially filed in July 2003 in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Calif.
While Park said it’s not illegal for companies to hire people that they feel are attractive, companies risk legal trouble if hiring standards include gender or race. “It’s fine for retailers to have a certain image but make sure it doesn’t run afoul of civil rights laws,” she said.
“There were two aspects to the settlement,” explained Shaheena Ahmad Simons, a staff attorney for MALDEF. “Abercrombie agreed to pay $40 million to be divided up amongst those apart of the lawsuit and injunctive relief, which are things the company must do to remedy the situation.” Abercrombie also agreed to stop targeting fraternities and sororities for prospective employees, require all employees to undergo diversity training, hire a new vice president of diversity and 25 recruiters to seek out women and minorities for jobs, and include minorities in marketing materials. Simons said the legal team was doing its best to contact former employees and encourage anyone who felt discriminated against to visit www.abercrombieclaims.com by March 25 to submit a claim.
November 16, 2004
San Francisco Chronicle, “Abercrombie & Fitch to pay $40 million to settle discrimination case”
Abercrombie & Fitch has agreed to pay $40 million to black, Hispanic and Asian employees and job applicants to settle a class-action federal discrimination lawsuit that accused the clothing retailer of promoting whites at the expense of minorities, lawyers said Tuesday.
The settlement, approved Tuesday morning by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston, requires the company to adhere to a consent decree that calls for the implementation of new policies and programs to promote diversity and prevent discrimination in its workforce. It also must pay about $10 million to monitor compliance and cover attorneys’ fees.
December 9, 2003
San Francisco Chronicle, Retailer’s image problem: Racism (Excerpt of Opinion piece by Joan Ryan)
According to a class action suit, Abercrombie & Fitch discriminates against minorities by pressuring stores to hire sales associates who fit the “A&F look,” which from their catalogs, advertisements and looping videos in their stores, is white, young and preferably blond. The plaintiffs claim they were denied jobs or squeezed out of jobs because of their race or ethnicity.
But as I watched a “60 Minutes” piece on the suit Sunday night, I wondered about the balance of private enterprise vs. public values. How do we weigh a company’s right to maximize its ability to attract its target audience against society’s obligation to protect its citizens against discrimination? As black talk show host and lawyer Larry Elder said on “60 Minutes,” “This is about a business deciding, pursuant to its best interests … that a particular kind of salesperson is more likely to generate more dollars. A&F ought to have the right to set their own policies for good or for ill.”
Well, no. Then it also would be OK for a restaurant owner in Selma, Ala., to claim he doesn’t hire African Americans because white waitresses and cooks make his white customers more comfortable and are better for business. “And that argument died a long time ago,” said Garry Mathiason, a senior partner at Littler, Mendelson, which represents about 30,000 employers. “It’s not only legally wrong, it’s not accepted by society.”
According to the suit, A&F is “enforcing a nationwide corporate policy of preferring white employees for sales positions, desirable work assignments and favorable work schedules.” The suit says the company recruits employees from colleges, fraternities, sororities and sports that are predominantly white. “They aren’t recruiting from the basketball team,” said Tom Saenz, one of the attorneys who coordinated the suit. “A company can project whatever image it wants, but it can’t use it as a cover for race discrimination,” said Elaine Elinson of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco.
November 19, 2003
Associated Press, “New discrimination suit hits Abercrombie”
Abercrombie & Fitch has been sued for a second time for allegedly discriminating against minorities who want jobs at the clothing retailer. The latest suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Camden, claims the company recruits and hires white college students for its sales positions, but tends to hire minorities only for jobs behind the scenes, such as overnight shifts and stockroom work.
The lawsuit is similar to one filed in June in a federal court in San Francisco and seeks class-action status. According to the claim filed Wednesday, lead plaintiff Brandy Hawk applied for a job at the Abercrombie & Fitch store in the Cherry Hill Mall in May. She is a college student and a varsity athlete – some of the characteristics the New Albany, Ohio, retailer says it’s looking for in a recruiting brochure. Hawk was initially told by an assistant manager that she would be recommended for the job, but was later rejected. In the complaint, Hawk said she was told she did not fit the image the retailer wanted to project.
September 4, 2003
The Wall Street Journal, “Racial Discrimination is Still at Work in U.S.”
Two young high-school graduates with similar job histories and demeanors apply in person for jobs as waiters, warehousemen or other low-skilled positions advertised in a Milwaukee newspaper. One man is white and admits to having served 18 months in prison for possession of cocaine with intent to sell. The other is black and hasn’t any criminal record.
Which man is more likely to get called back?
It is surprisingly close. In a carefully crafted experiment in which college students posing as job applicants visited 350 employers, the white ex-con was called back 17% of the time and the crime-free black applicant 14%. The disadvantage carried by a young black man applying for a job as a dishwasher or a driver is equivalent to forcing a white man to carry an 18-month prison record on his back.
August 3, 2003
The Miami Herald, “Retailer’s Narrow Image Looks Like a Loser”
I just checked my son’s closet and counted two Abercrombie & Fitch items. I wonder if he should have any.
Let me explain. A&F, that edgy, irreverent retailer for the 25-and-under set, has just been sued by nine Asian, black and Hispanic plaintiffs who claim that the company gives white employees preferences by hiring more of them and then assigning them to high-profile work on the retail floor. The lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Northern California seeks back pay and an end to those alleged practices.
Those plaintiffs may have a case. Check out A&F’s catalog. Walk into one of its stores in the mall. Click on its Web site. See anyone who isn’t blond and blue-eyed?
July 13, 2003
The New York Times, “Going for the look, but risking discrimination”
Abercrombie’s aggressive approach to building a pretty and handsome sales force, an effort that company officials proudly acknowledge, is a leading example of what many industry experts and sociologists describe as a steadily growing trend in American retailing. From Abercrombie to the cosmetics giant L’Oreal, from the sleek W hotel chain to the Gap, businesses are openly seeking workers who are sexy, sleek or simply good-looking.
Hiring for looks is old news in some industries, as cocktail waitresses, strippers and previous generations of flight attendants know all too well. But many companies have taken that approach to sophisticated new heights in recent years, hiring workers to project an image.
In doing so, some of those companies have been skirting the edges of antidiscrimination laws and provoking a wave of private and government lawsuits. Hiring attractive people is not necessarily illegal, but discriminating on the basis of age, sex or ethnicity is. That is where things can get confusing and contentious.
June 23, 2003
The Daily Journal (San Francisco), “Selling Sex, Especially the White, Hot Kind”
Using sex to move merchandise is not a new idea. More than a decade ago, Calvin Klein perfected the concept, using beefcake to sell millions of pairs of men’s underwear that even his most famous model, rapper Marky-Mark turned thespian Mark Wahlberg, complained weren’t very well made.
But Abercrombie has taken the trend to new heights — of both blatantly sexual imagery and controversy.
All too often, critics say, Abercrombie’s definition of “hot” means young, sleek — and white.
June 21, 2003
The News-Press (Los Angeles), “Lawsuit filed against national retail chain”
After his first year at Stanford University, Anthony Ocampo thought he could return to the Abercrombie & Fitch retail store where he had worked during his Christmas break.
When Ocampo, a Filipino-American, approached and asked an employee about returning to the Glendale Galleria store, she stepped away to consult a manager. She came back to Ocampo and allegedly told him he would not be rehired because “too many Filipinos” were already working there.
The incident is why Ocampo is one of nine plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the national retail clothing company.
June 20, 2003
The New York Times, Op-Ed, “A Retailer is Dressed Down”
After a bankruptcy and a series of buyouts, Abercrombie succeeded spectacularly in remaking itself as a cool shopping destination for young Americans. It is currently one of the nation’s largest retailers, operating approximately 600 stores. But critics are questioning whether Abercrombie’s much-promoted “classic American” look requires the wearer to be white as well as hip. The retailer says it does not discriminate, but a sample of the store’s catalog on its Web site features models who are all white. This week, former employees filed suit charging racial discrimination in its hiring practices. Former employees of the store charged that the few minorities who were hired often received jobs that placed them out of sight, off the sales floor.
June 20, 2003
Palo Alto Weekly, “Students sue Abercrombie and Fitch”
Two Stanford students are parties to a lawsuit alleging the retail chain Abercrombie & Fitch discriminates against non-white job applicants.
Anthony Ocampo, a Filipino-American and recent Stanford graduate, said he saw non-white workers either denied employment or relegated to the backroom three years ago when he worked at the store’s outlet in Glendale during Christmas break of his freshman year.
“Most of the workers of color work in the back of the store, while most of the white workers work in the front,” recalled Ocampo. At the end of the school year, he applied to work at the store for the summer, but was told, “I’m sorry, we can’t rehire you because there’s already too many Filipinos working here.”
“I was appalled,” he said. “I was extremely surprised that such a blatant act of discrimination could happen in the workplace.” Years later, Ocampo’s friend Eduardo Gonzalez applied for a job at the Abercrombie store in Santa Clara. The manager suggested he work in the stock room, even though they were hiring all positions.
June 18, 2003
The Wall Street Journal, “Suit accuses Abercrombie of racial discrimination”
A group of former and prospective employees filed a racial-discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch Co. Monday, accusing the clothing retailer of denying them job opportunities on the basis of race, color and/or national origin.
In their complaint, nine plaintiffs charged that Abercrombie “has maintained and continues to maintain a pervasive policy or practice of discrimination.” They accused the company of “denying employment, desirable job assignments, job transfers, allocation of weekly hours, compensation, and other terms and conditions of employment to minorities in Abercrombie stores” nationwide.
The plaintiffs, who are of Latino and Asian backgrounds, are being represented by a cadre of civil-rights organizations. The San Francisco office of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, a law firm that has scored multimillion-dollar settlements against such big companies as Home Depot Inc. and United Parcel Service Inc. in discrimination related cases, also is acting as counsel.
June 18, 2003
The Los Angeles Times, “Claims against Abercrombie detailed”
There was a time when Jennifer Lu was the face of Abercrombie & Fitch. For three years, she worked nearly 30 hours a week as a sales clerk in Costa Mesa, peddling the company’s self-described “classic American” clothing and accessories.
But in the wake of her sudden termination in February, Lu now contends she suddenly wasn’t “American” enough. Lu said that during a late January blitz, a corporate employee directed a manager to a poster of a young white male and said, “You need more staff that looks like this.” On February 8, Lu was fired.
June 17, 2003
The New York Times, “Clothing Chain Accused of Discrimination”
Abercrombie & Fitch, the clothing retailer that appeals to the college set with blond — haired, blue-eyed models, was sued yesterday for racial discrimination, accused of favoring whites for its sales floor jobs.
The lawsuit charges that Abercrombie discriminates against Hispanics, Asians and blacks in its hiring as it seeks to project what the company calls the “classic American” look. Several Hispanic and Asian plaintiffs said in interviews that when they applied for jobs, store managers steered them to stockroom jobs and away from the sales floor because they did not project what the company called “the A&F look.” That look, these plaintiffs said, is overwhelmingly white, judging from the low percentage of minority members who work on the sales floor and from the company’s posters and quarterly magazine, which overwhelmingly featured white models.
June 17, 2003
The San Francisco Chronicle, “Clothing retailer accused of discriminating against minorities”
Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch recruits and hires a disproportionately white sales force, cultivates a virtually all-white image and discriminates against minorities in hiring and firing, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.
That lawsuit, filed by nine Hispanic and Asian plaintiffs in federal court in San Francisco, alleges that Abercrombie discriminates against blacks, Hispanics and Asians by enforcing a nationwide corporate policy of preferring white employees for sales positions, desirable job assignments and favorable work schedules.