After an executive of clothing retailer Wet Seal visited several stores in Maryland and Philadelphia in 2009, the executive emailed subordinates that the stores lacked diversity. Specifically, the email stated the stores had too many black employees.
The following day, a black store manager of a Wet Seal who had just been promoted into the position was fired. She is now among several former employees of the young women's clothing chain alleging that the company had a policy, stemming from the very top, of exercising workplace discrimination against black store managers.
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of more than 250 former and current black managers of Wet Seal stores.
Both state and federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against workers and job candidates on the basis of race, age, sex, disability, religion and nationality. In some states, including Maryland, it is also illegal to discriminate against workers and applicants due to family or marital status as well as sexual orientation.
Often, discrimination is the fault of an individual manager, rather than a company policy at large. These cases often stem from a supervisor's personal bias entering into the workplace.
But in this case, it is very disappointing to see Wet Seal has been accused of having a companywide policy of firing managers who do not fit its brand image, reportedly aiming to fill positions with blond haired, blue eyed women.
Wet Seal has denied the allegations.
While it might seem outrageous that a large company would maintain such an obviously inappropriate practice in the 21st century, other companies have been accused of harboring similar policies in recent years.
Years ago, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. paid out $40 million after being accused of hiring and promoting white employees rather than black, Hispanic and Asian employees.
There is no excuse for workplace discrimination, and those employees who feel they have been discriminated against have a right to hold their employers accountable.
Source: Reuters, "Wet Seal Looked For Workers With 'Blond Hair And Blue Eyes,' Ex-Employees Claim," July 12, 2012