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New Wet Seal CEO settles 'brand image' race discrimination case

Last July, we discussed a class action lawsuit brought against the clothing chain Wet Seal and its parent company Arden B. because of alleged discrimination against African-American managers and sales staff because they didn't fit the "brand image." For example, one woman was told she had fired been replaced by a white employee after a visiting store executive apparently expressed that the company's brand image would be better served if the store's more visible employees were people "with blonde hair and blue eyes."

In a surprising and positive development, Wet Seal's new CEO has agreed to settle that case. He has offered the affected employees $7.5 million, $5.58 million of which will go directly to those employees. In addition, the company has agreed to institute a number of positive changes to their hiring and human resources policies.

“From the moment I became CEO of Wet Seal in January,” said the company’s new leader, “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.”

The CEO went on to say that he actually appreciated the insights offered by the class action and the accompanying EEOC analysis, which found that “brand image” and other supposed customer-preference interests are not enough to justify discrimination. “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, he added.

The class action settlement still needs to be approved by a judge, but this is very good news for those who opposed a clearly discriminatory policy. Their brave stand has resulted in an unusually quick and positive change in the practices of a company that employs as many as 9,000.

Source: Philly.com, "Wet Seal to pay $7.5M in Philly-area discrimination case," May 9, 2013

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