In June 2003, LDF filed a class action lawsuit, Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, against national clothing retailer, Abercrombie & Fitch. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charged that in addition to selling so-called “classic” looks, Abercrombie also practiced a classic form of discrimination against African-American, Latino and Asian American applicants and employees. The suit alleged that Abercrombie refused to hire qualified minority applicants as Brand Representatives working on the sales floor while discouraging applications from minority candidates. It also charged that in the rare instances when minorities were hired, they were given undesirable positions to keep them out of the public eye.
The suit was filed by nine young adults of color who were refused sales jobs or terminated based on their race and sued on behalf of themselves and others treated similarly. LDF joined with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and the law firm of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein to represent the plaintiffs. The suit asked that the court order Abercrombie & Fitch to end its discriminatory policies and practices, as well as award the plaintiffs and class members back pay and monetary damages.
The class grew as other minority applicants and employees across the country joined the original plaintiffs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission then joined the suit in 2004. The law firms of Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C. and Minami, Lew & Tamaki were added as co-counsel representing the plaintiffs. In November 2004, LDF and co-counsel reached a settlement with the company, winning $40 million dollars for rejected applicants and employees who had been discriminated against by the company. The settlement’s consent decree also required the company to institute a range of policies and programs to promote diversity among its work force and to prevent discrimination based on race or gender.
To ensure compliance with the provisions of the consent decree, Abercrombie & Fitch was instructed to name a Vice-President for Diversity, who reports directly to the CEO, and to provide diversity training for all employees with hiring authority. A new internal complaint procedure also provided employees with a mechanism to report problems. Additionally, the settlement required the store to establish “benchmarks” for the hiring and promotion of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and women while reporting its progress toward these goals at regular intervals to the plaintiffs’ attorneys and to a Special Master named by the court.
Further, the company was required to hire 25 recruiters to seek out minority employees. The company was also barred from utilizing its previous recruitment strategies, such as targeting particular predominately white fraternities or sororities. LDF, as part of the broad coalition of civil rights groups representing the Plaintiffs, brought an end to Abercrombie & Fitch’s unacceptable employment practices by identifying and preventing the continued use of the company’s discriminatory recruitment, hiring, job assignments, promotion, and training of employees.