Wet Seal has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a class action discrimination case that originated when three African-American store workers from Delaware County filed a complaint last year claiming Wet Seal, Inc. fired them because they didn’t fit the store’s image. Of that total amount, $5.58 million will go to current and former managers who are African-American.

In 2009, Nicole Cogdell, a manager at Wet Seal’s King of Prussia store, pulled together her team to welcome visiting corporate staff. Cogdell said she overheard an executive vice president tell a district manager during the visit that Cogdell “wasn’t the right fit for the store” and that the vice president “wanted someone with blonde hair and blue eyes.”

Cogdell was fired days later and was told by her district manager that she was fired for being African-American.

In one email, an executive wrote: “Store Teams – need diversification African American dominate – huge issue.”

Cogdell issued a statement through the NACCP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“Being targeted for termination from a job I loved because of my race was a nightmare,’ Cogdell said in the statement. “It was important for me to be a force for change, but I could not have done it without the support of other employees who spoke out against discrimination. Wet Seal has now committed to strong, fair policies because we took a stand. I hope these changes will create opportunities for all deserving employees, regardless of their race.’

Wet Seal released a statement calling the settlement a “no-fault resolution’ in which the company’s new leadership approached the plaintiffs to collaborate in “redefining the company and positioning it for success.’

“From the moment I became CEO of Wet Seal in January, I made clear that we value a diverse work force and believe that a dynamic and representative employee base allows us to best serve all of our customers,” said John D. Goodman, Chief Executive Officer. “We appreciate the insights we have gained from plaintiffs’ counsel and the EEOC for our best-practices initiatives. We are pleased to put this matter behind us as we continue to be committed to nondiscriminatory employment practices that create a welcome environment for people of all backgrounds.”

The settlement agreement outlines a series of initiatives designed to ensure diversity, including the maintenance of a Diversity and Inclusion Council. The settlement still must be approved in federal court.


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