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Image: Etro

Etro is calling foul on an ugly lawsuit filed against it this summer. The Italian design brand – which was accused of maintaining a “discriminatory animus, [which] has festered among the highest levels of management and plagued [its] employees” for more than two decades – has denied all of the allegations and asked the court to toss out case that Kim Weiner, its former U.S. Human Resources Director, filed in a New York state court in August.

According to Ms. Weiner’s complaint, while Etro may have a “glamorous public image” and a practice of “publicly supporting women’s causes to promote its brand, including organizations aimed at ending gender-based discrimination,” in reality, Etro USA’s own female employees are regularly paid considerably less than their male counterparts in comparable roles. Even worse, the company, itself, has allegedly engaged in “severe and pervasive … race-based harassment,” with Weiner going so far as to accuse the brand of “carefully designing a plot to create a hostile work environment” in order to rid its staff of African American employees.

Early this month, Etro formally responded to Weiner’s suit, denying her claims that it violated New York State Human Rights Law and ran afoul of contract law, the latter of which stems directly from her “malicious firing after twenty-five years of exemplary service at Etro USA solely in retaliation for her open criticism of, and opposition to, [Etro’s] pattern and practice of discrimination.”

In its answer, Etro states that it “engaged in no conduct that amounts to recklessness, amounts to willful or wanton negligence, involves a conscious disregard of the rights of others, or is so reckless as to amount to such disregard.” Moreover, it “did not participate in, acquiesce, or condone any of the complained-of conduct set for [by Ms. Weiner].”

As a result, Etro asserts that Weiner’s case should be dismissed in its entirety because she “failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

Beyond that, Etro’s counsel argues that actually Weiner – who is seeking monetary damages, including lost pay and benefits – is the one in the wrong here because she “failed to exercise reasonable diligence in seeking employment since her discharge from Etro.” Because Weiner “has failed to mitigate her damages, if any,” Etro argues, her “claims are barred, in whole or in part.”

In accordance with contract law, even if an individual is wrongfully terminated from his/her job, he/she has a duty to mitigate the damages at hand. “Essentially, this means that you have to diligently look for replacement work so that you aren’t unnecessarily running up the damages on the company,” according to employment attorney Tom Spiggle.

And this is precisely the type of claim that “defendant companies try to use to beat up on former employees in court.”

* The case is Kim Weiner v. Etro USA, et. al., 158019/2018 (N.Y.Sup).