Last October, the New York Times published an explosive article detailing allegations of sexual harassment and assault by high-powered Hollywood movie executive, Harvey Weinstein, that spanned two decades. In the wake of the Times’ lengthy exposé, the fashion industry girded its loins as the names of some of its most heavily relied-up photographers, big-name stylists and casting directors, and even a creative director or two, were raised in connection with claims of harassment and discrimination.
Meanwhile, fashion industry insiders, including the likes of Russian investor Miroslava Duma and couture designer Ulyana Sergeenko, have found themselves at the center of discussions about the wrongs that are rampant in the fashion industry. Claims of wrongdoing are hardly novel for fashion, though. With this in mind, here is a look back at a handful of the discrimination and harassment lawsuits that have been filed in recent years, which shed light on the larger issues to which the fashion industry has arguably turned a blind eye …
1. American Apparel Slapped with $1 Million Race Discrimination Suit (2008). Christopher Benfro alleged that a co-worker repeatedly called him a “n*gger” in 2008 when he worked at the store as an industrial design and construction employee. – An arbitrator in California awarded Renfro more than $300,000 in the case in July 2011.
2. Abercrombie Faces a Muslim-Headscarf Lawsuit (Sept. 2009). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against A&F in 2009 after the retailer refused to hire Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman, arguing that because she wore a hijab (in accordance with her religious views), she did not comply with the company’s strict dress code. – The Supreme Court sided with Elauf in June 2015, holding that “religious practice is one of the protected characteristics that cannot be accorded disparate treatment and must be accommodated.”
3. Wet Seal Accused of Racial Bias by 3 Ex-Managers (July 2012). The lawsuit alleges that Wet Seal had a policy of denying equal pay and promotion opportunities and terminating African-American store management employees across the country. – The case was settled by way of a $7.5 million payment from Wet Seal in May 2013.
4. Alexander McQueen Staff Accused of Racism in New Suit (July 2013). Othman Ibela, 22, of the Central African nation Gabon, filed suit against McQueen alleging that he was subjected to such intense racist taunting on the job that he was hospitalized for anxiety attacks, depression and plans of suicide.
5. Barneys Is Being Sued for Racial Discrimination (Oct. 2013). Luxury department store, Barneys, as well as the NYPD, is reportedly being sued for racial discrimination. The lawsuit stems from an incident this past spring, in which an employee at the NYC-based store allegedly called undercover cops after Trayon Christian, a 19-year-old black college student, purchased a $320 Ferragamo belt from the store in April. – Settled in Aug. 2014 with Barneys New York agreeing to pay $525,000.
6. Barneys Is Facing Another Race-Based Lawsuit (Oct. 2013). 21-year-old Kayla Phillips has filed suit against Barneys after she bought a $2,500 Céline bag from Barneys in February, using a temporary Bank of America debit card, which did not have her name on it. When Phillips left the Madison Avenue store, she was allegedly when she was “attacked” by four undercover police officers who suspected her of fraud. – Settled in Aug. 2014.
7. Tiffany & Co. is Really Racist Per New Lawsuit (May 2014). According to Michael McClure, 45, a group director for two Tiffany stores in Texas, the jewelry company engages in a “systemic, nationwide pattern and practice of racial discrimination” and as a result, of the more than 200 management positions that represent Tiffany to the public, a range that includes executive officers, store directors and members of the board of directors, only one is held by an African-American employee: McClure. – The case was voluntarily dismissed in Aug. 2014.
8. Louis Vuitton Accused Of Racism, Slapped With Racial Discrimination & Harassment Lawsuit (July 2014). Louis Vuitton that has been slapped with a lawsuit alleging racism filed by a sales associate, Oliver Koffi, at the luxury brand’s store in London’s Selfridge’s. Koffi is suing Louis Vuitton for racial discrimination and harassment after witnessing his boss make several racially insensitive comments. Koffi contends that the behavior created a “hostile and intimidating” working environment.
9. Saks Fifth Avenue Slapped with Transgender Case with Former Employee (Sept. 2014). Leyth Jamal, 23, filed suit, alleging that her managers at a Saks store in Houston constantly referred to her as a man, instructed her to use the men’s restroom and pressured her to change her appearance to a more masculine one, despite being aware of her transgender identity. – The case was settled in March 2015.
10. Chanel Won Employee Discrimination Lawsuit (Nov. 2014). Chanel won an employment-related lawsuit in Ireland earlier this month, stemming from what a former employee claims was employment discrimination based on pregnancy.
11. Sephora, LVMH Faces Racial Discrimination Lawsuit (Nov. 2014). Sephora is being accused of racial discrimination for allegedly blocking users of Asian and Chinese origin, following an online marketing event on November 6 that saw its website crash. – The case was dismissed.
12. Ex-Science Chief Sues Revlon Over Safety Issues, Discrimination (Jan. 2015). Revlon’s former chief scientific officer, Alan Meyers, has filed suit against the cosmetics company, alleging that he was fired after raising safety concerns and was discriminated against based on his religion. – The case was dismissed in March 2015.
13. Forever 21 Slapped with Transgender Discrimination Lawsuit (April 2015). 22-year old Alexia Daskalakis filed suit against the fast fashion giant, alleging that male supervisors insulted her and subjected her to bias because of her transgender identity, including calling her a “hot mess,” “useless,” and “disgusting,” and telling her that she looked “offensive.” – The case was submitted to arbitration in Aug. 2016.
14. Zara Was Just Sued for $40M for Discriminating Against Employees (June 2015). Ian Jack Miller, the former General Counsel of Zara USA, filed suit. Alleging that because he was not a member of Zara’s preferred demographic – straight, Spanish, and Christian – he was discriminated against and subject to a hostile work environment.
15. Former Giorgio Armani Attorney is Suing the Brand, its Founder for Discrimination (Sept. 2015). Fabio Silva, the company’s former general counsel, filed suit, alleging that Mr. Armani and the company’s execs retaliated against him after he reported to HR that a colleague made discriminatory comments to him based on his Mexican heritage in December 2014.
16. Perry Ellis President Sued After Demanding “No Blacks, Gays in Ads” (Oct. 2015). Perry Ellis was sued over claims that its president and Chief Operating Officer, Oscar Feldenkreis has instilled a racist and homophobic policy, including banning African Americans and gay individuals from all ad campaigns for the brands. According to the lawsuit, this includes, but is not limited to, “admonishing [plaintiff] Joseph Cook and his team to make sure there are ‘no blacks in my ads’ or ‘anyone who looked too gay’ and telling Mr. Cook he could easily avoid jury service by ‘telling them you hate niggers and fags.’” – The case was settled.
17. Nasty Gal Sued for Discrimination … for a Fourth Time (Nov. 2015). Not all that long ago, Nasty Gal was facing three separate lawsuits in connection with its alleged practice of discriminating against employees of the basis of sex and pregnancy. In short: Nasty Gal allegedly discriminated against and wrongfully terminated at least three employees because of their gender and the fact that they were pregnant.
A fourth lawsuit was filed, in which the Los Angeles-based fast fashion retailer and its “girl boss” owner, Sophia Amoruso were accused of discriminating against another female employee based on a mental or physical disability, in violation of both federal and California state law. – These cases were all settled.
18. Alexander McQueen, Kering Sued for Racial Discrimination … Again (Dec. 2015). Christopher Policard and Duane Davis, an inventory supervisor and an inventory clerk, respectively, filed suit against Alexander McQueen, alleging that it “engaged in systematic racism against Kering’s African-American employees” and a systematic rejection of “African-American job applicants who seek positions on the sales floor where they can be seen by customers or positions where they might have authority over the white employees, relegating the few African-Americans who are hired to menial positions behind the scenes.”
19. Forever 21 Sued for Gender, Sex Discrimination (Feb. 2016). Mickael Louis filed suit against Forever 21 in February 2016 citing discrimination on the basis of sex and gender. According to Louis’s complaint, a number of store managers, including Patrick Walmsley and Andy Liu, subjected him to “same-sex sexual harassment, [and] racist nicknames [such as “Nutella”] and ridicule.” – The case is still pending.
20. Former Dolce & Gabbana Cosmetics Sales Associate Sues for Pregnancy Discrimination (April 2016). A former cosmetics saleswoman for Procter & Gamble Co. is suing the company, claiming that she was fired after becoming pregnant and being told earlier by a supervisor that “pregnancy is not part of the uniform.” – The case was dismissed following mediation in Sept. 2016.
21. Jimmy Choo Named in Ugly Discrimination Lawsuit by Former Employee (May 2016). According to plaintiff John Ornelas’ lawsuit, which was filed last month in state court in California, Jimmy Choo USA Inc. and its supervisors subjected Ornelas to extensive discrimination and harassment, and eventually wrongfully terminated him, all for being gay and Hispanic. – The case was settled in Sept. 2016.
22. American Apparel Is Being Sued by Former Workers (Aug. 2016). The company is being sued for “wrongful termination, failure to pay overtime and retaliation for expressing concerns about working conditions and discrimination.”
23. Ralph Lauren, Kardashian’s DASH Slapped with Civil Rights Lawsuits (Oct. 2016). Ralph Lauren, Payless Shoes, and the Kardashian’s store, DASH, have each been slapped with separate civil rights lawsuits, for allegedly depriving “visually impaired plaintiff [Andres Gomez] from having full and equal access to their website[s] due to their failure to have screen reader software on it.” – These cases were settled in 2016.
Since then, Emily Weiss’s cult beauty brand Glossier has been slapped with a lawsuit alleging that is has run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by denying her and other visually impaired individuals “from having full and equal access to its website due to its failure to have screen reader software on it.” – This case was settled in May 2018.
24. Versace Sued for Allegedly Utilizing Code to Identify Black Shoppers (Dec. 2016). A former employee has filed suit against Versace, citing state law violations, including unfair business practices, racial discrimination, and wrongful termination, among others, in connection with the Italian design house’s use of a secret “black code” to alert staff and security when a black shopper is in the store. – The case is still pending.
25. Chanel Named in Discrimination Lawsuit by Former Employee (Jan. 2017). A former assistant manager of a Chanel boutique in San Francisco has slapped the Paris-based design house with a strongly-worded lawsuit alleging discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination based on her status as an observant member of the Serbian Orthodox Church. – The case was voluntarily dismissed in July 2017.
26. Tiffany & Co. Sued for Allegedly Firing Employee Over Cancer Mutation (Feb. 2017). A former Tiffany & Co. employee is suing the famed jewelry company for allegedly pushed her out after she had her breasts and ovaries removed to avoid getting cancer. – The case is still pending.
27. Forever 21 Sued for Allegedly Discriminating Against Spanish-Speaking Employees (April 2017). 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.” – The case is still pending.
28. Gianvito Rossi Accused of Racial Discrimination (May 2017). After being fired from the company in January, former employee Whitney Wilburn filed a lawsuit on the grounds of racial discrimination by her immediate superior.
29. Estee Lauder Sued for Allegedly Discriminating Against Male Employees (Aug. 2017). The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed suit against Estee Lauder, accusing the cosmetics giant of discriminating against men by giving them less paid parental leave than women. – The case was settled in July 2018.
30. Male Model Files Sexual Harassment Suit Against Bruce Weber (Dec. 2017). Male model Jason Boyce has slapped one of fashion’s most famous photographers, Bruce Weber, with a strongly-worded lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. – The case is still pending.