Abercrombie & Fitch Bias Case Is Settled

The New York Times

November 17, 2004

Abercrombie & Fitch, one of the nation's trendiest retailers, settled race and sex discrimination lawsuits yesterday, agreeing to alter its well-known collegiate, all-American -- and largely white -- image by adding more blacks, Hispanics and Asians to its marketing materials.

After a federal judge in San Francisco approved the class-action settlement yesterday, the two sides announced an agreement that calls for Abercrombie & Fitch to pay $40 million to several thousand minority and female plaintiffs. Abercrombie also agreed to hire 25 diversity recruiters and a vice president for diversity and to pursue benchmarks so that its hiring and promotion of minorities and women reflect its applicant pool.

In an unusual step, the settlement calls for Abercrombie to increase diversity not just in hiring and promotions, but also in its advertisements and catalogs, which have long featured models who were overwhelmingly white and who seemed to have stepped off the football field or out of fraternities or sororities. Plaintiffs' lawyers said they insisted that the company agree to add more diversity to its marketing materials so as not to discourage minorities from applying for jobs. In another unusual move, the settlement requires Abercrombie to stop focusing on predominantly white fraternities and sororities in its recruitment.

The plaintiffs' lead lawyer said Abercrombie had refused to hire many minority students who had impressive work and school records. He added that the percentages of minority and women managers at Abercrombie were far below industry averages. "We're talking about discrimination being visited on some of the best and the brightest within their community," he said. He applauded the settlement, approved yesterday by Judge Susan Allston of Federal District Court. "The import of this settlement is that a major American company has stepped forward and become a model." To learn more, click here.

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