Image: Moschino

Moschino has a code word for black shoppers, according to a damning new lawsuit filed against the American arm of the Italian fashion brand. Former Moschino employee Shamael Lataillade, who filed a lengthy complaint against the brand in a California state court on Friday, claims that Ranna Selbak, her manager at the West Hollywood, Los Angeles-based Moschino outpost, who is also named as a defendant in the case, would call non-celebrity black shoppers “Serena” and would encourage staff members to “closely watch” and even follow them.

Ms. Lataillade, who had been employed by Moschino as a Sales Supervisor since June 2015, asserts that she was wrongfully terminated last spring, “following ongoing and atrocious harassment and discrimination based on her status as a Black, Haitian American woman.” In addition to Moschino’s regional manager Ranna Selbak allegedly stealing some “4 percent” of her commissions, refusing to give her the mandatory vacations days or clothing allowance as promised by Moschino, and “demanding that [she] do things outside of her agreed workload without additional compensation, title, or benefit,” Lataillade claims that Selbak “created and fostered a hostile environment.”

“Selbak’s racial animus was clear,” according to the complaint. She “would verbally abuse [Lataillade], calling her names, yelling, and berating her.” In particular, Lataillade states that Selbak called her “ghetto” and a “thief,” said she “practiced voodoo” due to her Haitian heritage, and on more than one occasion, drew attention to her “natural, kinky hair,” which Selbak allegedly said was not a “professional look.”

Such racially-motivated harassment allegedly extended beyond Lataillade to Moschino customers, as well. As set forth in the complaint, Selbak enforced a specific “protocol” when a black individual – who “was not a celebrity and did not have an outward appearance of money via diamonds or name brands” and whom she believed “couldn’t afford items in the store” – entered into the store. In addition to the “Serena” code word, Selbak would “take pictures of [their] licenses plates” in the store parking lot, and recommend that other sales associated do the same, would refuse to pull items from the back for them to try on, and would engage in other acts that caused them to feel “degradation, humiliation, harassment, and discrimination,” Lataillade argues.

In late March 2018, one day after she contacted Moschino’s corporate staff for the second time in light of “Selbak’s continued discriminatory, harassing, and retaliatory behavior,” Lataillade claims that Selbak fired her, saying, “Tomorrow will be your last day due to the sequence of events. Contact corporate like you have been doing.”

As a result of the foregoing, Lataillade has set forth 17 different claims, including breach of contract, race harassment and discrimination, religious harassment and discrimination, gender harassment and discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, defamation, and various other causes of action stemming from breaches of California state law. She is seeking  monetary damages, including triple damages since the defendants’ misconduct “was committed intentionally, in a malicious, oppressive, fraudulent manner.”

Moschino has said in a statement that it “complies with applicable equal employment laws and values and respects all customers and clients regardless of their race or background.”

The lawsuit comes two years after a former Versace employee filed suit against the Italian brand, citing state law violations, including unfair business practices, racial discrimination, and wrongful termination, among other claims, in connection with Versace’s alleged use of a secret “black code” to alert staff and security when a black shopper is in the store. According to the suit, which is still underway, staffers in Versace’s Pleasanton, California store were encouraged to use a “D410 Code,” the code used for labeling black clothing, as well as for use “in a casual manner when a black person entered the store to alert co-workers.”

*The case is Shamael Lataillade v. Moschino USA Inc. and Ranna Selbak, 18STCV07026 (Cal. Sup).