The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that Wet Seal, a nationwide apparel retailer for young women, illegally discriminated against a former store manager after one of the company’s executives complained about too many black employees at the manager’s store in Pennsylvania.
In making its determination, the EEOC stated that Wet Seal’s corporate managers openly stated that they wanted employees who had the “Armani” look, were white, had blue eyes, and were thin and blond, in order to “be profitable”. According to the EEOC, the day before the African-American store manager of the King-of-Prussia store was terminated in 2009, the retailers’ senior vice president for store operations had inspected her store and several others in the area, and had sent an e-mail stating “African Americans dominate – huge issue”.
The company disputed the EEOC’s determination. It insisted that the former employee had resigned voluntarily, and thus had not suffered an “adverse employment action”. However, the EEOC held that the vice-president’s e-mail, which the employee had seen, as well as the sudden termination of numerous African-American employees at other retail locations in Pennsylvania, had created a hostile work environment which forced the employee to quit. In other words, the EEOC found that the employee had not voluntarily resigned, but rather had suffered a “constructive discharge”.
In its statement, the EEOC stated that it would seek a “just resolution” of the matter through negotiations.