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December 5, 2012

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that retailer, Wet Seal, Inc. discriminated against a former African American store manager.

With the recent concluding of a three year investigation, the EEOC found that Nicole Cogdell, a former manager of a Wet Seal store in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, was subjected to hostile work environment due to her race. The evidence produced included that Wet Seal corporate managers openly stated that to be profitable the retailer had to retain workers with “the Armani look” – meaning thin, blond and blue-eyed and that one high-level manager sent an email to subordinates in 2009 pointing out that the dominance of African American workers was a “huge issue.” The EEOC also determined that managers at Wet Seal
were being instructed to make employment decisions based on race.

Cogdell had filed a racial discrimination charge against the company with the EEOC in March. She filed a lawsuit against the company in July, along with two other former Wet Seal employees. The lawsuit, which is seeking class action status, alleges that African-American employees were targeted for termination from the company and in some cases denied pay or promotions at Wet Seal and Arden B stores.

Wet Seal said it cooperated with the investigation and had voluntarily collaborated with the agency on “an extensive program” to promote diversity. That included an ethics hotline, which workers can use to report incidents that violate the retailer’s anti-discrimination policy. 12.05.2012