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Image: Etro

Etro may have a “glamorous public image” but a new lawsuit alleges that such branding “has long concealed a dark and malevolent secret.” According to a complaint filed in New York state court on Tuesday, former Etro employee Kim Weiner claims that the Italian design house’s American arm – Etro USA – has for at least two decades maintained a “discriminatory animus, [which] has festered among the highest levels of management and plagued employees at Etro.”

Weiner, who had worked as Etro USA’s Human Resources Director since 2005 before being fired, claims that “for decades, [Etro USA] has retaliated against, harassed, and fired Etro USA employees based solely on their age, race, sex, or disability.” In particular, Weiner claims that “while Etro publicly supported women’s causes to promote its brand, including organizations aimed at ending gender-based discrimination, [she] observed that Etro USA’s own female employees were regularly paid considerably less than their male counterparts in comparable roles.”

In addition to gender, Weiner says she “witnessed, and assisted employees in dealing with, severe and pervasive harassment based on their race, and complained about the race-based harassment” to Etro USA’s executives. Weiner claims that the company’s discriminatory ethos led its executives to “fire employees based on protected characteristics” and to “carefully design a plot to create a hostile work environment” in order to rid its staff of African American employees.

On at least one occasion, a company executive “exiled [an African American employee] to a windowless office in the sub-basement of the building away from the corporate offices and the customers” and then “began sending [her] false orders from information that could not be verified in an attempt to cause her to make mistakes so that he could manufacture a reason to fire her.”

A separate employee “sustained such unrelenting and vindictive harassment based on her race at the hands of [Etro USA’s CFO Flavia Danese] that she began to experience medical issues, including substantial weight loss due to severe anxiety.”

Employees who “opposed [Etro USA’s] discriminatory practices were antagonized and terminated,” Weiner asserts. This includes “multiple women who have complained about the disrespectful and hostile treatment they suffered from [Etro CEO for the Americas] Marco Felci,” including Weiner, who says she was “maliciously fired after twenty-five years of exemplary service at Etro USA solely in retaliation for her open criticism of, and opposition to, their pattern and practice of discrimination.”

Weiner further alleges, “Incredibly and disgustingly, despite the #MeToo movement and Etro’s claimed enlightenment, Etro USA has paid women less than men for comparable jobs.” Weiner claims that the company repeatedly “ignored or dismissed her concerns” about the “illegal and discriminatory conduct of her superiors.”

With the foregoing in mind, Weiner sets forth claims of violations of New York State Human Rights Law and breach of contract, and is seeking monetary damages that include but are not limited to “compensatory damages, including damages for lost pay, benefits, and emotional distress, in an amount in excess of $25,000 to be determined at trial.”

A representative for Etro was not immediately available for comment. In its formal answer filed on September 17, 2018, the fashion brand denied Weiner’s claims, and asserted that it “did not participate in, acquiesce, or condone any of the complained-of conduct.” The company argued that Weiner’s claims “are barred, in whole or in part” for a number of reasons, including “because the employment actions about which she complains were taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons,” because of “her failure to utilize internal procedures to seek redress of any complaints she purports to have had,” and “because the employment actions about which she complains would have been taken regardless of any alleged protected activity or characteristic.”

UPDATED (January 27, 2020): Following a year and a half of back and forth between the parties, Judge John J. Kelly ordered that “the action [be] discontinued and the complaint dismissed, with prejudice and without costs to any party.” In tossing out the case, he cited a December 2019 stipulation of discontinuance, in which both Weiner and the defendants moved to have the case dismissed in its entirety, presumably as a result of an out of court settlement, the terms of which are confidential. 

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