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PHILADELPHIA — Preppie sportswear retailer Abercrombie & Fitch was hit with a nationwide race discrimination class action Wednesday by a team of Philadelphia lawyers who say the sales force in its 600-plus stores is “overwhelmingly white.” The lead plaintiff, Brandy Hawk, claims in the suit that she was told by an interviewer in May that she would be recommended for a job at an A&F store in Philadelphia, but that she was later told she was passed over because she did not have the “image” that the store wanted to present. In a press conference Wednesday, plaintiffs’ lawyers said they believe Hawk’s experience was typical of qualified minority candidates who are routinely rejected for sales jobs by A&F or relegated to less visible positions in store stock rooms. A&F’s corporate offices in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, referred calls to a New York public relations firm, which issued a statement that said: “We cannot comment on the merits of this suit because we haven’t been served with the complaint.” Joining forces to represent the plaintiffs are attorneys Sidney Gold and Traci Greenberg of Sidney L. Gold & Associates; Hilary Cohen, Joseph Kohn, Martin D’Urso and Diana Liberto of Kohn Swift & Graf; and Bryan Clobes, Melody Forrester and Jeffrey Lerner of Miller Faucher & Cafferty. Also signing on as part of the plaintiffs’ team are attorney Cleo Fields of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in Chicago; and attorneys James Keller and Zachary Gottesman of Gottesman & Associates in Cincinnati. The suit, filed in U.S. district court in New Jersey, is the second proposed national class action race discrimination suit against A&F. The first was filed earlier this year in federal court in California. The New Jersey suit alleges that A&F markets its products by selling a culture and lifestyle, which it calls the “Classic American Style.” “The catch is that ‘Classic American’ does not mean all Americans,” Gold said. “Latino-Americans, African-Americans and Asian-Americans do not fit the ‘A&F look.’” The suit alleges that A&F’s advertisements, Web site and catalogs feature predominantly white models, and that the company promotes a corporate culture that promotes the hiring of young, white salespeople in its stores. But a visit to A&F’s Web site Wednesday showed that some black models are featured. In a section that allows Internet surfers to look at postcards, the four images included two of white couples embracing and two others that featured black models alone, one male, one female. Plaintiffs’ lawyers say they believe the statistics will tell the story and that investigation is sure to show that the A&F work force is disproportionately white. Federal investigators have apparently already reached that conclusion, according to the suit. Attached to the suit is a “letter of determination” from the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which the agency says it found cause to believe that a Latino man was denied a job due to his race. “Evidence obtained during the course of the investigation revealed that Latinos and blacks, as a class, were denied permanent positions, denied assignments and treated in an unfair manner with regard to recruitment based on their race and national origin,” the EEOC letter says. Also attached to the suit are photographs showing group shots of store staffs around the country. Of the 167 employees pictured in the 18 photos, only one is black. According to the suit, A&F employs more than 22,000 workers and operates more than 600 stores in 48 states, including 45 in the Philadelphia area and New Jersey. Although A&F purports to follow a non-discrimination policy in its hiring, the suit alleges that the company’s actual policies contradict its written promises. The suit alleges that A&F “systematically recruits white sales applicants and discourages sales applications from minority applicants.” Minorities who are hired are often placed in “stock room and overnight shift positions and away from positions in stores that are in the public eye,” the suit alleges. The suit says A&F communicates its discriminatory policy through an “appearance policy” that is strictly enforced and requires store workers to fit the “A&F look.” The suit alleges that “the ‘A&F look’ is code for the company’s ‘whites only’ approach to marketing its clothing.” Shannon P. Duffy is a reporter for The Legal Intelligencer , a Recorder affiliate based in Philadelphia.

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