ABWW Hater of the Day: Wet Seal

Black women have made great strides education & business, but these accomplishments can still be met with vicious racism. Women’s clothing retail giant Wet Seal is not interested in having black female management. When Nicole Cogdell, manager of the Wet Seal store in King of Prussia, walked up to the chain’s executive vice president, intending to welcome her. Instead, Cogdell said, she overheard the executive vice president, telling a district manager that Cogdell, an African American, “wasn’t the right fit for the store,”

Cogdell was fired March 3, 2009, a few days after the visit to her store and is now along Kai Hawkins and Myriam Saint-Hilaire suing the corporation for racial discrimination. They say the chain set out to fire African American employees because they did not fit the retailer’s “brand image.”
Kai Hawkins, the African-American former manager of a store in Cherry Hill, N.J., said her district manager had told her to hire more white employees or face termination. The same executive vice president had told a regional manager that she must have “lost her mind” to have put a black person in charge of a particular store.

The complaint mentions e-mails and testimony from former managers that allegedly show high-level Wet Seal executives instructing managers to fire African American employees and “diversify” by hiring and promoting white employees “who fit the Wet Seal brand image.” The attorney for the plaintiffs states that more than 20 current and former Wet Seal employees had filed charges of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This is not the first clothing retailer to promote this discriminatory practice. In a federal lawsuit brought in 2003, Abercrombie & Fitch — which at the time regularly used blond, blue-eyed models to appeal to consumers of college age — faced a somewhat similar lawsuit that accused it of discriminating against blacks, Hispanics and Asians.After a federal judge approved class-action status in that case, Abercrombie agreed to pay more than $40 million to several thousand plaintiffs, hire 25 diversity recruiters and add more blacks, Hispanics and Asians to its marketing materials. Wet Seal better start located funds for this decision, pronto because they have been caught red handed!

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