Not too cool for a lawsuit: Abercrombie & Fitch dinged for discrimination

A London tribunal today ruled that Riam Dean, 22, suffered unlawful harassment when she was an employee at Abercrombie & Fitch. She was awarded $13,256.81, or £8,000 pounds.

Dean, who has a prosthetic arm, had sued the company after her store manager allegedly forced her to wear a cardigan to cover the prosthesis, then demoted her from a sales position on the floor to a stockroom job.

When Dean's case first came to light, I wrote a post for Walletpop suggesting that perhaps the young woman's complaint should mark the end of the road for A&F, a brand that has experienced more than its fair share of discrimination controversies -- and one that's now also battling a grave downturn in sales.

The proposal -- which I freely admit was a radical one -- was met with heated responses on both sides. I learned that very definitely many people are sick and tired of A&F's near-constant, winking prejudices, as well as its sometimes-shoddy product quality and its always too-cool-for-school salespeople.

And speaking of school, lots of people on the other side of the argument inferred that my assessment of A&F was inspired by my being either severely unpopular in high school, overweight, a minority, or a self-loathing Caucasian. What all of them agreed on was that my post utterly lacked objectivity.

Well, the post did lack objectivity -- because Walletpop is a blog. We break news, but we also comment on wider trends and draw our own conclusions from around the media landscape. There's a difference between a newspaper article and a blog post.

As for the other guesses -- they don't exactly dignify a response. But rest assured that my view of A&F is influenced by neither my teenage experiences nor my weight and race. I reviewed the company from the standpoint of a business writer, one who simply thinks a combination of tattered denim, snobby customer service and t-shirt bigotry may not be a winning formula for getting any retailer through the recession. (I did, by the way, reach out to A&F to ask for its reaction to my story and the comments; it did not respond).

Dean's victory over the company proves that I'm not the only one who recognizes the company's persistent lapses in judgment. And its second-quarter earnings, due on Friday, will likely confirm that whether my theories are right or not, something isn't working at A&F -- same-store sales fell 32% in June and 28% in July, out-declining analysts' already sober expectations.
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