Saturday, November 20, 2004


Abercrombie & Fitch Co. 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. (full article)

Weird hearing about this for me. Back around 1997, I remember hearing a lot about Abercrombie & Fitch's subtle discrimination practices and obvious marketing campaigns that excluded minorities, but after I left for Asia for four years I didn't keep up with the related news. In 1997, I took a retailing course at Columbia Business School with Alan Kane (cross-referencing among Columbia's professional schools and considering an e-commerce startup at the time), and Michael Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch's CEO, came in to speak about his operations and tremendous growth at the time. I remember a few students who questioned Jeffries about these practices and his company's targeted marketing towards white, suburban teens. Obviously, he denied these charges and stated that his company didn't make any conscious effort in their hiring practices and marketing efforts. Whatever.

Here are some testimonials against Abercrombie & Fitch's practices:

Eduardo Gonzalez, a Stanford student from Hayward, California, was pleased with the settlement. "I remember how discouraged I felt when I applied for a job at the Santa Clara store and the manager suggested that I work in the stock room or on the late night crew in a non-sales position. I felt it was because I was a Latino - but there was no one I could report this to at the time."

Plaintiff Anthony Ocampo, a recent Stanford graduate, who was told he couldn't be hired because "there's already too many Filipinos," agreed with Gonzalez. "It is important that Abercrombie seek out employees of color and provide them training and opportunities for promotion."

Jennifer Lu worked at the Crystal Court Mall store in Costa Mesa, California for three years while she was a student at U.C. Irvine. She and five other Asian American employees were terminated after a visit from senior management and replaced with white sales staff. "I was very distressed after I was terminated for being an Asian American woman. I am now very excited about the policies and programs Abercrombie must implement that came about as a result of this lawsuit. I am looking forward to seeing a more diverse Abercrombie; one that actually reflects the look of America," said Lu.

Carla Grubb, an African American student at California State Bakersfield, was constructively discharged from the Abercrombie store in the Bakersfield Valley Plaza Mall after being assigned cleaning and other menial jobs. "I felt demoralized being the only African American employee and being specifically assigned to dust the store, wash the windows and clean the floors. With this settlement, I now know that Abercrombie cannot treat other employees of color in such a manner."

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