Wet Seal Pays $7.5 Million For Retaining Only Blond, White Employees

Does a retailer have the right to hire only employees with a very specific look, one that the chain sees as in line with its intended image? It's debatable, but when those distinctions are applied to racial discrimination, the argument gets ultra-thin—and ultra-thin is another employee criterion where Wet Seal got into trouble.

Wet Seal this week paid $7.5 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit, an amount the chain characterized as "a no-fault resolution of the case." (Given that the chain has a new CEO who was active in the negotiations, it appears Wet Seal meant "it's no fault of the CEO who still works here.")

Although Wet Seal "maintains that it has a strong track record of hiring, promoting and retaining a diverse work force, Wet Seal's new leadership approached the Plaintiffs to collaborate on best practices," the chain's statement said.

"From the moment I became CEO of Wet Seal in January, I made clear that we value a diverse work force and believe that a dynamic and representative employee base allows us to best serve all of our customers," said CEO John D. Goodman. "We appreciate the insights we have gained from plaintiffs' counsel and the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) for our best-practices initiatives. We are pleased to put this matter behind us as we continue to be committed to nondiscriminatory employment practices that create a welcome environment for people of all backgrounds."

The deal has Wet Seal agreeing "to post open positions, implement new selection criteria and interview protocols, revamp its annual performance reviews and compensation structure, add regional human resources directors, implement more diversity and inclusion communications and training for field and corporate office employees, and enhance its investigations training and processes. The Company also has reflected its commitment to use diverse models in its marketing and to partnerships with organizations dedicated to the advancement and well-being of African Americans and other diverse groups."

The company will pay at least $5.58 million into a fund for 1,600 current and past managers for lost pay and promotion, termination and emotional distress, according to lead plaintiffs attorney ReNika Moore of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, reported USA Today.

Lawyers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said managers openly said they wanted workers who had the "Armani look, were white, had blue eyes (and were) thin and blond."

The lawsuit alleged that former top Wet Seal executives denied equal pay and promotion opportunities to black store managers or removed them outright, replacing them with white employees, reported the Los Angeles Times.

For more:
- See USA Today story
- See Los Angeles Times story
- See Wet Seal statement

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