The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Orange County, California, alleges that since 2008, the nationwide women's clothing store chain targeted African-American store managers because they do not fit the "brand image" it sought to project. This policy was adopted and implemented by the highest corporate officials, including the company CEO and Senior Vice President and Vice President of Store Operations. In March 2009, for example, after visiting several stores the Senior Vice President wrote an email to the Vice President of Store Operations and a district manager with her store visit notes. Under the heading, "Global Issues," she wrote, "Store Teams need diversity — African American dominate — huge issue." Another senior executive ordered a district manager to "clean the entire store out" after observing numerous African-American employees working there.
Two former store managers and a former assistant manager of Wet Seal are the named plaintiffs in the case. The complaint alleges that Wet Seal had a policy of denying equal pay and promotion opportunities and terminating African-American store management employees across the country. Cogdell et al. v. The Wet Seal, Inc. (Case No. SACV 12-01138 AG). The complaint seeks damages for the named plaintiffs and the class. The class is estimated to include several hundred current and former Wet Seal store Assistant Managers, Co-Managers and Store Managers. Wet Seal, headquartered in Foothill Ranch, California, has over 7000 employees at its 550 Wet Seal and Arden B. stores.
Plaintiff Nicole Cogdell, a former store manager of the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania store, was given a termination notice after the Senior Vice President visited her store and discovered Ms. Cogdell was African-American. Plaintiff Kai Hawkins, a former manager of the Cherry Hill, New Jersey store, was told by her district manager that senior management had ordered her to hire more white employees or be terminated. Plaintiff Myriam Saint-Hilaire, a former assistant manager at the King of Prussia store, was told by her District Manager that she was under intense pressure to get rid of Ms. Saint-Hilaire and other African-American employees. She was fired shortly before the "African American . . . huge issue" email was sent out.
Ms. Cogdell, who quit after Wet Seal refused to address its racially discriminatory policies, said, "I couldn't work for a company that not only tolerated, but required discrimination."
Over 20 charges of discrimination have been filed by current and former Wet Seal employees with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Wet Seal, including a charge filed by a former Regional Director alleging she was fired for promoting an African-American to manage a high-profile store. Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson, P.C of Oakland, California is among the legal firms representing the plaintiffs.