Monday, May 13, 2013

EEOC Throws a Wet Blanket on Wet Seal’s Hiring Practices

Clothing retailer Wet Seal has reached a 7.5 million dollar settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concerning allegations that Wet Seal systemically discriminated against employees of color who did not fit the retailer’s “white, blue eyes, thin, and blond” brand.

The suit was brought by three African-American former managers, who claimed they were explicitly told to hire more white workers. One former manager, Nicole Codgell, said she was fired the day after a Senior Vice President toured several outlets and then sent an email to lower managers stating, "African American[s] dominate—huge issue."

But my favorite quotes are attributed to Senior Vice President Barbara Bachman, who allegedly told managers to "lighten up" the staff in stores with mostly white customers and informed one regional manager that she must have "lost her mind" to have put a black person in charge of a certain store.

Of course, Wet Seal is denying any wrongdoing, to which I say—BS. If you’re shelling out 7.5 million, you damn sure did something. Don’t even think about tinkling on my leg and telling me it’s raining. Also, the EEOC and its co-counsel, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, say they have plenty of email messages to back up their claims.

This weekend I got into a conversation with a woman who’d posted an article about the multi-million dollar skin-lightening industry in India, which is also huge in Africa, and we started talking about ideals of beauty and why they are what they are, and one reader commented—

I hear where you come from, and yes it's a bit unfair on brown ladies that the world prefer blondies, but at the end of the day who cares? ... I think that choosing Taylor over Rihanna is NOT racism, it's called different taste and it's always subjective. You are a beautiful girl and all what matters is that your friends, families, boyfriends find you beautiful.

Oh reader … I knew when you said that foolishness you were out in left field, but everyone is entitled to her opinion, right?

Well, sort of. It turns out Wet Seal is NOT entitled to its opinion that white, blue-eyed, and blond makes for better employees. Too bad.

And dumb, dumb, dumb.

Creating and focusing on a brand is one thing, but when will employers get that race is NEVER a BFOQ? (That’s bona-fide occupational qualification, for you non-HR types.) The law allows employers to focus on certain physical traits in certain circumstances (a common example is it’s okay for an employer to want women to model women’s clothing), but this race crap is not allowed, your “brand” be damned.

I’m glad I don’t have any daughters to ban from Wet Seal’s stores.

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