Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch accused of discriminating against minorities

Tuesday, June 17th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch hires a disproportionately white sales force, puts minorities in less-visible jobs and cultivates a virtually all-white image in its catalogues and elsewhere, a lawsuit charges.

The federal lawsuit, filed Monday by nine Hispanic and Asian plaintiffs, alleges that Abercrombie discriminates against blacks, Hispanics and Asians by enforcing a nationwide corporate policy of preferring white employees for sales positions, desirable job assignments and favorable work schedules.

``If you look at the material they put out, they are cultivating an all-white look,'' said Thomas Saenz, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. ``It is difficult to understand why, given that their target age demographic is even more heavily minority than the rest of the population.''

A spokesman for the company, which targets college students with its upscale casual clothing, declined to comment.

Anthony Ocampo, a Filipino-American who recently graduated from Stanford University, said he applied for a job at a store in Glendale where he'd previously worked. After speaking with a manager, a salesperson told him, ``We're sorry, but we can't rehire you because there's already too many Filipinos working here,'' said Ocampo, 21.

``I was pretty appalled and for a good amount of time I was just real angry,'' Ocampo said.

Johan Montoya, another plaintiff, alleges a Canoga Park, store refused to hire him because he is Hispanic, even though he had retail experience.

``It's one of those things I never thought would happen to me,'' said Montoya, a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The company has been accused of racial insensitivity in the past. Last spring, it removed T-shirts from stores after Asian-American groups complained about depictions of two slant-eyed men in conical hats and the slogan ``Wong Brothers Laundry Service _ Two Wongs Can Make it White.''

According to the lawsuit, which is seeking class certification, the company has a policy that requires all sales people to exhibit an all-white ``A&F look.'' Posters and a television program in stores display models who are mostly white, as does the company's catalogue, the lawsuit alleges. The company also encourages recruitment from overwhelmingly white fraternities and sororities, it says.

When it does hire minorities, it channels them to stock room and overnight shifts and reduces their hours, the suit says.