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Image: Moschino

In late December 2016, Christopher Sampino filed a lawsuit against Versace. He claimed that during his two week tenure at the Italian fashion brand’s outlet store in Pleasanton, California, he was harassed as a direct result of his mixed race and ultimately fired after he complained about such treatment. The lawsuit was the latest in a string of cases filed against the American arms of major high fashion houses in recent years, all centering on claims of alleged race-motivated discrimination. Defendant Versace USA swiftly denied Sampino’s claims of labor abuses and discrimination, noting that it “does not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, national origin or any other characteristic protected by our civil rights laws.” 

There was more to the lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in Northern California, than Sampino’s own labor-related claims. Additional claims served to shed light on an alleged practice was being carried out in that specific Versace store and maybe others: the use of a code to identify shoppers in something of the same way that the brand characterizes its clothing. 

“D410” is the code that Versace uses for labeling black clothing – from its $3,975 puff sleeve mini jacket dresses to its Grecca border baroque stripe leggings and matching crop tops. That same code is also allegedly used for another, far more nefarious purpose, Sampino asserted: to reference black customers in its stores. According to Sampino’s suit, a manager explained to him as part of his new-employee training that the “code is used to alert co-workers that ‘a black person is in the store.’” 

While striking in nature, the Sampino’s claims would not be the only ones of this nature made in connection with a major Italian fashion brand. Roughly two years later, Moschino landed on the receiving end of a similar lawsuit, in which former employee Shamael Lataillade accused the brand’s U.S. entity and a regional manager of “ongoing and atrocious harassment and discrimination based on her status as a Black, Haitian American woman.” 

In her suit, which was filed in a California state court in January 2019, Lataillade asserted that such allegedly discriminatory animus extended further than the personal discrimination she experienced, which she said consisted of manager Ranna Selbak “verbally abusing [her], calling her names, yelling [at], and berating her.” 

Beyond that, she claimed that the management at the brand’s West Hollywood, Los Angeles-based outpost 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. They would be referred to with a code name – “Serena” – which Lataillade claimed was a direct reference to race. In addition to the “Serena” code word, Lataillade alleged that management would encourage staff members to “closely watch” and even follow non-celebrity black shoppers. 

On the heels of the filing of Lataillade’s lawsuit, a spokesman for Moschino stated that the brand “complies with applicable equal employment laws and values and respects all customers and clients regardless of their race or background.”

In the wake of the news of the initial filings, little has been made of the two suits, raising the question: what has become of the cases? Well, both have since settled, quietly putting to bed the striking claims wages against stem. 

The Moschino case appeared to be slowly moving towards trial when the parties managed to settle their differences out of court, but not before Moschino denied the majority of Lataillade’s claims and set forth an array of affirmative defenses aimed at mitigating any potential liability under California state law, including that the plaintiff’s causes of action are barred because it “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassing, discriminatory, or retaliatory behavior, [while Lataillade] unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities provided by [Moschino], and reasonable use of [those] procedures would have prevented at least some of [her] damages, if she has any.”

The case quietly settled in April 2019 and was ultimately dismissed with prejudice this past summer. The terms of the parties’ settlement remain confidential.

The same would prove to be true for the Versace suit, with the court approving the terms of the parties’ proposed settlement this summer and dismissing the case with prejudice in accordance with the terms of the settlement agreement.

As for the settlement and its terms, at least some of that has been made public. According to an August 2019 judgment and order for final approval, Judge Jeffrey S. White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that the sum of monetary damages and the settlement terms – which apply “to all individuals who Versace employed in the State of California in a retail salesperson position from November 16, 2012 to September 21, 2018,” with 91 individuals opting to join the class of plaintiffs – are “fair, just, reasonable and adequate to, and in the best interest of the class [members].” 

The court similarly approved Sampino and his fellow plaintiffs’ motion for attorneys’ fees the tune of $99,990 in attorney’s fees, and litigation costs of $15,733.06, noting that the settlement is “not evidence of, or an admission or concession on the part of [Versace USA] with respect to any claim of any fault, liability, wrongdoing, or damages whatsoever.” 

While the court’s August 2019 order does not specify the sum that Versace agreed to pay the plaintiffs, the court does state, in furtherance of its determination of the reasonableness of the attorneys’ fees award, that a sum of nearly $100,000 is “approximately 33% of the value of the settlement,” suggesting that the gross settlement sum was roughly $303,000 plus “$2,000 [for] each of the three class representatives,” including Sampino, “for enhancement payments ($6,000 total).”