After being slapped with a copyright, trade dress, and design patent infringement lawsuit by Puma late last week, Forever 21 has been named in yet another lawsuit, this time filed by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The fast fashion retailer is on the hook for allegedly adopting and enforcing an "unlawful English-Only policy at its flagship San Francisco store violating the civil rights of its employees and discriminating against them based on their national origin.”
According to the suit, which the Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed in the San Francisco County Superior Court on behalf three Forever 21 employees, the fast fashion giant’s "English-Only policy prohibited [its] employees from speaking any language other than English during work hours, including during employee rest breaks [...] and was enforced primarily against its Spanish-speaking employees.”
The employees at issue, Francisco Leon, Ignacio Martinez, and Freddy Tovar, were allegedly subject to "hostility and verbal abuse" from the store's assistant manager of merchandising, Amanda Harris and its stock manager, Luis Morales, for speaking Spanish amongst themselves and to Spanish-speaking customers.
The complaint alleges that Harris was "verbally aggressive" to Leon, Martinez, and Tovar when they inquired about the English-Only policy, including telling one of them that "she wished he would electrocute himself while replacing a lightbulb" in the store. The lawsuit further claims that despite the men’s complaints to Forever 21’s human resources department, HR was "dismissive and indifferent ... failing or refusing to take corrective action.”
Still yet, after complaining about the English-Only policy, Leon, Martinez, and Tovar "experienced reduction in their work hours and harassment from Morales and Harris.
As a result of Forever 21's "unlawful employment practices," the complaint alleges that Leon, Martinez, and Tovar "suffered past and future lost wages [and] suffered emotional injuries, including but not limited to, emotional distress, anxiety, frustration, humiliation, mental anguish, nervousness, and other non-pecuniary losses.”
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing claims that Forever 21’s policy is in direct violation of California state law, which states that it is "unlawful for an employer to adopt or enforce a policy that limits or prohibits the use of any language in any workplace, unless the language restriction if justified by a business necessity and the employer notified its employees of the circumstances [in advance].”
Moreover, it alleges that the policy amounts to discrimination based on national origin and that in reducing the men’s hours in response to their complaints, Forever 21 is running afoul of state law by engaging in retaliation.
The suit also comes after Forever 21 has been named in others for allegedly discriminating against employees in the recent past. In April 2015, 22-year old transgender female Alexia Daskalakis filed suit against the retailer for allegedly harassing and then firing her after she began to transition. In February 2016, the brand was sued by New York-based employee Mickael Louis, who cited discrimination on the basis of sex and gender.
According to a statement from Forever 21: “While we do not comment on pending litigation, Forever 21 is committed to diversity and inclusion in all of our stores and does not have any policies with regards to the language spoken in our stores.”
* The case is DEPARTMENT OF FAIR EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING AN V. FOREVER 21, CGC-17-557825.