Wet Seal Settles Racial-Discrimination Case

The complaint charged the company with firing black management employees to protect its "brand image."

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Wet Seal, Inc.

(The Root) -- An email from a former Wet Seal president of store operations instructing a district manager to "clean the entire store out" by firing black managers and saying that "African Americans dominate -- huge issue" was at the center of a lawsuit against the teen-fashion retailer that was settled on Wednesday. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund represented the plaintiff, manager Nicole Cogdell.

Cogdell said that she learned she was being let go after a former senior vice president visited her store in King of Prussia, Pa., and discovered that she was African American. Beyond her individual firing, the lawsuit alleges that Wet Seal had a policy of denying equal pay and promotion opportunities and terminating African-American store-management employees across the country.

Under the settlement, Wet Seal's new CEO and board of directors have agreed to make numerous changes (including tracking applicants to ensure diversity in applications and hiring), and the company will pay $7.5 million in monetary relief, including damages of at least $5.58 million to current and former African-American managers.

"Being targeted for termination from a job I loved because of my race was a nightmare," says Cogdell.

"With this settlement, Wet Seal is attempting to right its wrongs. It has agreed to address our claims challenging the treatment of black workers in its retail stores," said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP LDF in a statement released on Thursday. "The fight for equality in the workplace is far from over in America. No one should have the cards stacked against them on their job simply because of their race."

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