One Black Wet Seal manager claims she was fired for not having blonde hair and blue eyes.
CNN reports that a woman named Nicole Cogdell has filed suit against Wet Seal for racial discriminiation, claiming that she lost her job because she is Black.
Nicole had successfully managed a Wet Seal store at a Springfield, Pennsylvania, mall where most of the shoppers were Black. She was so good at her job that the district manager then promoted her to run a store at the higher-end King of Prussia mall, where most of the customers are White.
Former Wet Seal Vice President Barbara Bachman visited the King of Prussia store shortly after Nicole took over command of the shop. That’s wen the retail manager claims that the exec openly stated that Nicole did not match up with the brand’s desired look.
Nicole recalled, "She literally looked at my district manager and said, ‘That’s the store manager? I wanted someone with blonde hair and blue eyes.’"
Four days later, Nicole said that she was let go only to be replaced by a White woman with less experience. The new manager was also paid more than Nicole earned at the store.
"Brand image is one thing, however, being terminated because you’re African American is something totally different," said Nicole, who has an e-mail from Barbara that gives hard evidence of an adverse attitude to Black employees.
The message from Barbara, which was forward to Nicole, states, "Store Teams – need diversity. African American dominate – huge issue."
While Barbara no longer works for the company, Nicole feels that her attitude is indicative of the company’s underlying-yet-unwritten corporate policy of discrimination.
Joining Nicole in her suit against Wet Seal are two other Black former managers who claim that they were either denied promotions or pay raises—if not fired—because of their race. The case could turn into a class action lawsuit, but Wet Seal is denying any racial bias.
"We do not discriminate on the basis of race or any other category," the company said in a statement. "We are confident that when all the facts come out in this matter, the public and our customers will see that African Americans are well represented and values members of our employee base, including our management."