Image: Philipp Plein

Philipp Plein has been named in a new lawsuit that accuses the designer and his eponymous brand of discriminating against an employee on the basis of his sexual orientation. According to the complaint that he filed in a New York state court on February 7, Amro Alsoleibi asserts that during the course of his employment, Mr. Plein engaged in – and the company fostered – a “pattern and practice of discriminating against gay men,” allegedly telling employees on more than one occasion that “you cannot be too gay” and that company’s “men are 100% heterosexual.” 

In the newly-filed complaint, which was first reported by WWD, Alsoleibi asserts that he was hired by Philipp Plein America (“PPA”) as a Regional Brand Manager in December 2017 “because of his established capacity in fashion and sales,” with over 20 years of sales and managerial experience from his previous employment by Dsquared2, Valentino, Fendi, Etro, and John Galliano. “An HIV-positive gay man,” Alsoleibi claims that “he has always excelled at all previous positions in fashion without any issues,” and in fact, “during his tenure with PPA, [he] hit $12 million in revenue for the company.” 

Despite such success, Alsoleibi alleges that his employment situation was mired in discrimination. He claims that “Plein was not aware of the fact that [he] was gay, or of his HIV-positive status,” and that that “very early in [his] employment,” the 42-year old German designer “started to be transparent with his distaste for gay men, saying ‘I hate to work with gays.’” 

Alsoleibi claims that he “discovered that Plein had a pattern and practice, across the entire company, of treating all gay employees worse than heterosexual employees,” and that Plein “frequently affirmed and fostered the macho and toxic masculinity image in his business,” while also being “very clear that this preference was not just in business branding, but also [meant] that all managers and employees must fit a certain stereotype in order to work for him.” 

In August 2018, Alsoleibi contends that he started to speak up about the offensive nature of Plein’s comments, thereby, “alerting Plein, for the first time, that [he] is gay.” From that point forward, Alsoleibi says that “Plein started to make a number of malicious and homophobic comments, such as: that is ‘too gay’ ‘don’t hire gays,’ and ‘stop moving your hips like a gay person.’”  

Around the same time, Alsoleibi claims that the conditions of his employment began to deteriorate further. “In early August 2018, Mr. Alsoleibi’s health insurance was suddenly discontinued, which was a very serious problem as he needed his HIV medication, without which his life could be at risk,” he states in the complaint. Thereafter, on August 14, “Mr. Alsoleibi was immediately retaliated against by having his pay improperly docked when he left the office, sick.” 

After discovering that he was HIV-positive, Alsoleibi argues that the company “started to intrusively monitor his health very closely.” On one occasion in late August, Alsoleibi claims that then-CEO Andrea Lanza Cariccio said, “I prefer if you do not fly too much during this period because I know you don’t feel so well,” and thus, allegedly “prevent[ed] Mr. Alsoleibi from doing his job based on assumptions of his health condition because of his HIV status.” Alsoleibi calleges that “was not provided a reasonable accommodation nor were his goals adjusted, and therefore, he would be judged adversely if he didn’t fly and perform his job.” 

And still yet, in October 2018, Alsoleibi asserts that “in further retaliation for speaking up against treatment of gay employees at the company and after his HIV status was discovered (which he was forced to reveal when his medical insurance was stopped), his clothing allowance was taken away,” “all of [his] duties were stripped away, and two store openings in his area took place without his involvement.” 

This all culminated in him being “unlawfully terminated on February 1, 2019,” Alsoleibi argues, with such termination being a “direct result of his sexual orientation and HIV-positive status, and in retaliation for his multiple complaints about [Plein and PPA’s] unlawful employment policies and hostile work environment.” 

With the foregoing in mind, Alsoleibi claims that he suffered from gender, sexual orientation, HIV status, and disability discrimination; FMLA retaliation and interference; sexual harassment; hostile work environment; failure to provide accommodations; and retaliation all in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as various New York state statutes, such as the New York State Human Rights Law. In addition to injunctive relief to bar the defendants from continuing to engage in such allegedly “unlawful discriminatory and retaliatory practices,” Alsoleibi is seeking an unspecified sum of damages, such as front and back pay, compensatory damages as a result of the “mental anguish, humiliation, lack of self-respect, emotional and physical pain, suffering and illness” that he experienced, and punitive damages. 

 A representative for Philipp Plein told TFL, “The false accusations of homophobia against Mr. Plein were just a desperate attempt to hijack and exploit the LGBTQ cause in order to cover up the misconduct of a dishonest employee who was fired for just cause.”

*The case is Amro Alsoleibi v. Philipp Plein Americas, Inc., and Philipp Plein, 151308/2021 (N.Y. Sup.)