Perry Ellis, the Miami, Florida-based fashion brand, is being sued over claims that its president and Chief Operating Officer, Oscar Feldenkreis, subjects employees to “highly offensive homophobic, racial, and ethnic slurs” in violation of both federal law and New York City Human Rights Law. According to Joseph Cook, a senior executive of Perry Ellis, the brand that also owns labels Original Penguin, Ping and Nike Swim, 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 Mr. 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 purportedly racist policy, which Cook alleges has crated a hostile work environment in violation of New York City Human Rights Law (one of the claims in his lawsuits), dates back to December 2013, when Cook claims Feldenkreis was reviewing a joint ad with Lord & Taylor and specifically stated the company’s preference for “no black or gay people.” Cook alleges that Feldenkreis directed him and a team member to give him final approval on all Lord & Taylor joint ads going forward in order to avoid such casting.
Cook further claims that since complaining about the company’s discriminatory practices last month, he has been cut out of decision-making about Original Penguin. Hence, his claim for retaliation in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which includes claims of retaliation by those pursuing race and color claims. According to his lawsuit, Cook’s weekly executive reports, usually the subject of immediate discussion with top-ranking executives over email, have been met with silence, and Feldenkreis has taken to assigning Original Penguin work that would normally be Cook’s to other people.
In addition to a jury trial, Cook is seeking: “An award of damages in an amount to be determined at trial to compensate for non-monetary and/or compensatory damages including but not limited to compensation for [Cook’s] mental anguish, humiliation, embarassment, stress and anxiety, emotional pain and suffering, and emotional distress.”
In a statement to the New York Post, Perry Ellis denied the claims: “Perry Ellis is a company that promotes equal opportunity and a positive working environment. The company is proud of the fact that it is probably one of the most diverse companies in the apparel business following its multi-cultural roots, stemming from Puerto Rico and Cuba,” the statement read. “Perry Ellis categorically denies any allegations to the contrary. The claims that have been asserted will be vigorously defended against.”