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Wet Seal settles racial discrimination lawsuit for $7.5M

In the fashion world, image is often everything. Clothing designers and clothing companies often strive to achieve a certain desired look in an attempt to cater to a desired clientile. In some cases, however, a company's attempts to potray a certain image may serve to alienate potential clients or be deemed outright discriminatory.

The clothing company Wet Seal recently reached a $7.5 million dollar settlement in a racial discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit stemmed from the allegations of several current and former black employees that the clothier regularily and openly engaged in discriminatory practices against black employees. 

In conjunction with the lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the clothing company and found that executives sought to promote what was referred to in internal documents as an "Armani look". Essentially, executives sought to hire and promote managers and employees who were white and had blond hair and blue eyes.

A three-year EEOC investigation proved that Wet Seal executives carried out egregious acts of racial discrimination, including the firing of a black store manager who was replaced with a white manager. Much has changed at the clothing company since allegations related to widespread racial discrimination first surfaced. The company's board members were replaced as was the CEO.

In a company statement related to the $7.5 million settlement, the new CEO declared the company's committment to promoting diversity within its stores and management structure. Additionally, more than $5.5 million of the settlement amount will be distributed directly to current and former black employees who were adversely impacted by the company's discriminatory practices.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Wet Seal to pay $7.5M to settle race discrimination suit," Tiffany Hsu, May 9, 2013

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