Now hiring in Houston: blond haired, blue eyed retail workers

Although federal and state statutes outlaw discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, religion, nationality, age, disability, marital status, pregnancy and gender, some employees and job applicants are still subject to unfair discriminatory treatment here in Texas. Most often, discrimination cases stem from employers looking the other way while supervisors or co-workers bring their personal biases into the workplace.

In this day and age, discrimination is often subtle, manifesting itself in lower pay for certain employees, inadequate working conditions or a hostile work environment. However, sometimes workplace discrimination is more organized, existing at a high level within an organization. Such may be the case with the young women's clothing retailer Wet Seal, which was recently accused of carrying out an executive policy to discriminate against black store managers.

Three former Wet Seal employees filed the suit on behalf of more than 250 current and former black store managers. It accuses senior executives of adopting a policy of discriminating against black store managers at the company's Wet Seal and Arden B stores in the hopes of filling staffs with workers who fit a certain brand image--blond hair and blue eyes, specifically.

According to the suit, one of the company's senior vice presidents toured 20 stores in 2009, emailing her subordinates afterward: "Store teams - need diversity/African American dominate - huge issue."

A black store manager in one of those stores was fired the same day that email was sent, even though she was only promoted into the position two months prior. The former manager said a less-qualified white employee was moved into her spot.

It might be hard for Houston residents to wrap their minds around the fact that large U.S. company would adopt the alleged outlandish employment policy, but this has happened before. Abercrombie & Fitch Co settled a suit when facing similar allegations years ago.

Although we like to think issues like this no longer exist in the workplace, they are alive and well in some companies. It is important that workers who have witnessed such treatment step forward to protect themselves and others from further discrimination by holding their employers accountable under the law.

Source: Reuters, "Wet Seal Looked For Workers With 'Blond Hair And Blue Eyes,' Ex-Employees Claim," July 13, 2012

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