Abercrombie Faces Discrimination Lawsuit
Wed Jun 18, 4:16 AM ET
By DEBORAH KONG, AP Minority Issues Writer
SAN FRANCISCO - Abercrombie & Fitch, the clothing retailer that promotes a "casual classic American lifestyle," has been hit with an employment discrimination lawsuit accusing it of cultivating an overwhelmingly white sales force.
The lawsuit, filed Monday by nine Hispanic and Asian plaintiffs, alleges that Abercrombie discriminates against blacks, Hispanics and Asians with a corporate policy that requires all sales people to exhibit an all-white "A & F look."
The company promotes the policy by recruiting from overwhelmingly white fraternities and sororities, and producing catalogs and store promotional materials with mostly white models, according to the lawsuit.
When it does hire minorities, the company channels them to stock room and overnight jobs, says the lawsuit, which seeks certification as a class action.
"If you look at the material they put out, they are cultivating an all-white look," said Thomas Saenz, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. "It is difficult to understand why, given that their target age demographic is even more heavily minority than the rest of the population, they would choose to do this."
The New Albany, Ohio-based company, which targets college students with its upscale casual clothing, has about 600 stores and about 22,000 employees nationwide. Its Web site says it features clothing "that compliments the casual classic American lifestyle."
Spokesman Tom Lennox said Abercrombie has not received a copy of the lawsuit, and declined comment on its specifics, but said the company does not discriminate.
"As a company that prides itself on diversity, we are dismayed by the lawsuit and take this matter very seriously," he said. "Abercrombie & Fitch represents American style. America is diverse and we want diversity in our stores."
One of the plaintiffs, Anthony Ocampo, a Filipino-American who recently graduated from Stanford University, said he applied for a job at a store in Glendale, Calif. where he'd previously worked.
After speaking with a manager, a sales person told him, "We're sorry, but we can't rehire you because there's already too many Filipinos working here," said Ocampo, 21.
"I was pretty appalled and for a good amount of time I was just real angry," Ocampo said.
Johan Montoya, another plaintiff, alleges a Canoga Park, Calif. store refused to hire him because he is Hispanic, even though he had experience working in a store in the same mall.
"It's one of those things I never thought would happen to me," said Montoya, a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "We live in a day and age where discrimination is looked down upon so heavily, it was simply absurd."
Another plaintiff, Angeline Wu, a Chinese-American, alleges she was terminated from a store in Costa Mesa, Calif after a manager pointed at a poster of a blond-haired, blue-eyed male model and said the store needed more staff members with a similar appearance.
"It shouldn't be happening, especially in this day," Wu said. "We've had the civil rights movement in the past and this is outrageous. It shouldn't be happening."
Abercrombie has been accused of racial insensitivity in the past. Last spring, following complains from Asian American groups, it removed from stores a line of T-shirts that showed two slant-eyed men in conical hats and the slogan "Wong Brothers Laundry Service — Two Wongs Can Make it White."
Photo caption: This is one of the T-shirts, from a line that was available at the Abercrombie & Fitch store in San Francisco, on April 18, 2002, depicting stereotypes of Asians that prompted an e-mail and phone campaign to boycott the clothier for racial insensitivity. The company is again in trouble with minorities. A federal lawsuit filed Monday June 16, 2003, in San Francisco, charged that clothing retailer hires a disproportionately white sales force, puts minorities in less-visible jobs and cultivates avirtually all-white image in its catalogues and elsewhere. The company removed shirts from its stores last spring. (AP Phoito/Paul Sakuma)