Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Abercrombie settles lawsuit over dress code

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO - New Albany, Ohio-based clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a suit with California labor regulators over allegations it forced its employees to buy and wear its clothes while on the job.

The agreement with the state applies to nearly 11,000 people who worked at Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister Co. and Abercrombie stores in the state from Jan. 1, 1999, through Feb. 15, 2002.

The state alleged that the company's "Appearance/Look Policy" was enforced in a way that required store employees to buy the company's clothes.

"These are workers who, by and large, may have been making more than minimum wage - but not a lot more," said Miles Locker, a California Labor Commission attorney.

Abercrombie confirms it encouraged employees to purchase the company's clothes, but disputes that wearing the goods was a requirement.

The company revised its policy last February and denies any wrongdoing.

"Both before and after implementing its revised policy, Abercrombie has offered discounts to its associates to encourage, but not require, them to purchase and wear Abercrombie clothes. However, those decisions are made voluntarily," Abercrombie spokesman Tom Lennox said Tuesday.

The company, based in the Columbus suburb of New Albany, targets young people with its upscale casual clothing and has about 600 stores and about 22,000 employees nationwide.

Under the settlement terms, Abercrombie agreed not to force workers to buy its clothes and will reimburse former employees for Abercrombie clothes purchased for working in California stores during that period.

Those reimbursements range from about $200 to $490, varying with each former employee's job status and tenure.

The settlement with the state is separate from a similar pending civil suit over Abercrombie's dress-code policies.

The clothing chain also was sued last week for employment discrimination.

That suit claims that Abercrombie discriminates against blacks, Hispanics and Asians by hiring a disproportionately white sales force, putting minorities in less-visible jobs and cultivating a virtually all-white image.

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