Santa Ana, CA—Three former managers at Wet Seal filed a federal race discrimination suit against the specialty retailer on Thursday, alleging the company discriminated against African Americans because they didn’t fit “the brand image.”
The lawsuit, filed in the Federal District Court, claims that Wet Seal’s “most senior executives” discriminated against black store managers as a matter of “policy and practice.”
While the former managers seek back pay, general and punitive damages, they also seek class action status on behalf of 250 other African American current and former employees.
According to the suit, Wet Seal’s senior vice president of store operations sent an email in 2009 discussing the need for greater racial diversity among store staff after she inspected them. The email read: “African American dominate—huge issue.” One of the managers said she was fired the day after the email was sent. She also alleges that she overheard a senior executive tell a district manager to hire someone “blond hair and blue eyes.”
The suit also alleges that the same executive told various managers to “lighten up” the store’s work force in store locations where there were more white customers.
Brad Seligman, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said that more than 20 current and former Wet Seal employees have filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Although Wet Seal executives declined comment, the company, which operates Wet Seal and Arden B. stores, issued a statement, saying “Wet Seal is an equal opportunity employer with a very diverse workforce and customer base. We deny any and all allegations of race discrimination and will vigorously defend this matter.”