Corporate Officials Instructed Managers to Make Employment Decisions Based on Race

(New York, NY)  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a Determination that Wet Seal, Inc., a national women’s clothing retailer, racially discriminated against a former store manager, Nicole Cogdell.  Cogdell is lead plaintiff in a pending national race discrimination class action against Wet Seal.  Cogdell v. The Wet Seal, Inc., (C.D. Cal. SACV12-01138).  The suit alleges Wet Seal had a corporate policy of discriminating against its African-American store managers in pay, promotions and termination.  The Determination, issued on November 29, 2012 and made public today, after a three-year investigation, includes the following findings:

  • “[C]orporate managers have openly stated they wanted employees who hadthe Armani look, were white, had blue-eyes, thin, and blond in order to be profitable.’”
  • Senior Vice President of Operations Barbara Bachman, after visiting stores in the Maryland and Philadelphia markets, including Cogdell’s, distributed an email stating under “Global Issues” that “Store Teams – need diversity African Americans dominate – huge issue.”
  • Despite Cogdell’s “outstanding performance” as a store manager leading to her store being ranked number 8 nationally (out of more than 500 stores), the Sr. Vice President in the same “Global Issues” email, claimed Cogdell “is not right for this store”.
  • After the email, the Vice President of Operations directed Cogdell’s district manager to demote Cogdell.
  • Wet Seal took no corrective action even after Cogdell complained about the discriminatory email, and “African American employees bombarded” Cogdell “with concerns of ongoing race discrimination”.
  • Wet Seal’s “failure to take effective remedial and corrective action to address the egregious managerial conduct of Bachman and other corporate officials, created a stressful and hostile working environment” for Cogdell.  The EEOC found that these events, “coupled with the fact, she was employed with a company where managers were instructed to make employment decisions based on race” created conditions “so intolerable, her only recourse was to resign.”

Nicole Cogdell said, “After three long years, I feel justified by the EEOC’s Determination.  It is intolerable for any company—let alone a major company with hundreds of outlets—to blatantly discriminate against its African-American employees. But I wasn’t the only victim of Wet Seal’s discrimination, and I will not stop fighting for justice for all the victims.”

“The EEOC Determination fully supports the claims Cogdell has made in the class action case,” says lead counsel for the class Brad Seligman of the Oakland, CA law firm of Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson.  “We are moving forward aggressively to document the impact of Wet Seal’s discriminatory policy.”  

“As the EEOC’s determination recognized, employment discrimination persists and can still bear striking similarity to practices that belong in the dustbin of history,” says Debo Adegbile, Acting President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (LDF).  LDF is also counsel for the class. 

The case, brought by Cogdell and two other former managers, seeks lost pay and compensatory and punitive damages for all African-American store managerial employees who suffered discrimination in promotions, pay and termination.  The case is in the investigation phase.

The class is also represented by the Media Pennsylvania firm of Gallagher, Schoenfeld, Surkin, Chupein & DeMis.