On July 12th, 2012, with the assistance of private counsel and attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, three terminated black store-management employees filed this federal suit in the Central District of California. They alleged racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against The Wet Seal, Inc., and related corporations, which sell women's clothing in retail stores under the name Wet Seal and Arden B. Plaintiffs filed their retaliation claims on their own behalf and their discrimination claims as a class action on behalf of black current or former store-management employees (estimated to be more than 250 people). The complaint sought injunctive relief including reinstatement and monetary relief in the form of back pay, front pay, attorneys' fees, punitive damages, and compensation for emotional distress.
Plaintiffs argued that The Wet Seal discriminated against black employees in hiring, pay, promotion, and discipline in comparison to similarly situated white employees. Plaintiffs further argued that senior level company management discriminated against black employees by firing them on account of their race and without cause. Senior level management had pursued a racially discriminatory brand image of white women, preferably with blond hair and blue eyes, especially in markets with a greater percentage of white clientele, by instructing various levels of management to "diversify" stores with largely black employees by hiring more white employees and firing black employees. Plaintiffs claimed that their difficulty in obtaining subsequent employment was due to retaliation for resisting The Wet Seal's discriminatory policies, alleging that The Wet Seal had failed to provide fair references and in one case even to verify employment.
On January 9th, 2013, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that among other things added another named plaintiff and added claims. A claim for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e) was added to the class action, while claims for retaliation and hostile work environment under Title VII were added on behalf of individual plaintiffs.
Eventually the parties reached a settlement agreement, and on March 8th, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement and other related matters, which Defendant The Wet Seal did not oppose. The settlement would resolve both the class action claims and the individual claims. The terms of the proposed settlement provide for a maximum payment of $7.5 million dollars, which includes up to $1.8 million for attorney's fees and costs and $120,000 for administration of claims. The proposed settlement also covers a wide variety of injunctive relief, such as diversity, nondiscrimination, and investigation training, development of fair job-related evaluation criteria, and dedicated phone line for verifying employment.
There has been a minor dispute delaying approval of the settlement because of an individual attorney's fee arrangements. The Court (Judge Andrew J. Guilford) has not yet held the hearing for approval; the case is ongoing.
Plaintiffs' attorneys have set up a website documenting the case, a link to which is provided below under Additional Resources.Kenneth Gray - 06/12/2013