Disabled employee wins tribunal against Ambercrombie and Fitch
While finding stops short of disability discrimination, US clothing giant gets a black eye for treatment
Story from The Telegraph
A British employment tribunal has found Abercrombie and Fitch wrongfully dismissed Riam Dean, a student who was employed at the sexy Saville Row store then dismissed ostensibly because she didn’t fit the “look” of the store.
Riam Dean, although photogenic, has a prosthetic arm and contended she was dismissed because of her disability.
The tribunal awarded Dean about $15,000 US ($9,000 British pounds) for loss of employment, wrongful dismissal, harassment and hurt feelings. The tribunal stopped short of making the award for disability discrimination.
Riam Dean awarded damages
Abercrombie and Fitch are developing a reputation for discrimination which should harm their sales.
They lost a $45 million lawsuit in the US on discrimination against minorities. Disability discrimination cases are still new and not well understood by the courts. The fact A&F has now lost cases on both sides of the Atlantic is turning heads in the retail fashion industry.
Abercrombie and Fitch proclaimed their innocence of the disability discrimination charges which carry heavier penalties both by law and bad public relations. Their lawyer issued a press release saying, “We are pleased that the Tribunal found that A&F did not discriminate against Ms. Dean on grounds of her disability and also found that A&F provided Ms. Dean with the accommodation she requested… We were happy to employ Ms. Dean, and we have always been, and will continue to be, supportive of the rights of disabled individuals.”
Dean was hired by Abercrombie and Fitch in 2008 but relegated to the back room where she would not be seen by customers. She was born with part of her arm missing and wears a prosthesis. While Dean offered to cover the prosthesis with a sweater, the employer’s treatment amounted to wrongful dismissal to Dean for not having the sexy A&F look.
The tribunal heard testimony that “on July 4, Maria Barbera, one of her managers, told her: “I can’t have you on the shop floor as you are breaking the look policy, immediately go to the stockroom.” Telegraph.co.uk
Dean, then a law student and now an articling student at law, filed a complaint with the central London employment tribunal.
Dean, speaking through her mother after the ruling, appears pleased with the results.
Miss Dean’s mother, May, said her daughter was “very, very pleased” at the outcome.
She said: “It has been a long legal battle against Abercrombie but all her efforts have finally paid off.” Telegraph.co.uk
Public Relations gaffe for Abercrombie and Fitch
Apart from the legal niceties of how they discriminated against Ms. Dean, it is obvious Abercrombie and Fitch did wrong her to the tune of $15,000. Is it chic to discriminate?
“Marketing experts described the case as “one of the biggest gaffes” by a fashion retailer, and warned it could damage the brand.
Mark Borkowski, a leading brand and celebrity publicist, said: “This is probably one of the biggest gaffes by a fashion retailer – it is a disgrace and a PR nightmare.
“When people are confronted daily with pictures of heroic soldiers returning from Afghanistan with missing limbs, people will look at this case and think that Abercrombie & Fitch is incredibly shallow.
“It is potentially very damaging to them and they will need to work hard to restore some depth to their brand if they are to maintain their position in today’s competitive environment.”
“Jason Nisse, a PR executive from the firm Fishburn Hedges, added: “Abercrombie & Fitch should not confuse creating an aspirational image with being elitist.
“They need to immediately reassure customers that this is a brand for everyone, not for just some ideal that they have of what is a beautiful person, or they will rightly become the poster boys for everything that is wrong with the fashion industry.” Telegraph.co,uk
Abercrombie and Fitch puts beautiful law student in the stock room
Young and sexy Abercrombie look discriminates against minorities