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Judge Susan Illston signaled her willingness Monday to approve a nearly $50 million settlement agreement in a series of sex and race discrimination suits against clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. The Northern District judge said at press time that she wanted more time to go over the settlement, but noted, “I anticipate I will sign the papers.” According to court filings, the proposed agreement provides a $40 million fund for members of the class, in addition to nearly $8 million in attorneys fees and expenses. It also calls for injunctive relief requiring changes in Abercrombie’s hiring practices. The 23 named plaintiffs would receive sums ranging from $8,000 to $39,000. The company, which admits no wrongdoing, has agreed to hire a vice president of diversity and regional diversity recruiters, and to try to reach benchmarks in the percentage of minority and female employees. It would also change certain recruiting tactics and no longer target colleges and fraternities that are overwhelmingly white for applicants. “It’s rather forward-looking,” said Jack Lee, a partner with Minami, Lew & Tamaki who represented female plaintiffs alleging gender discrimination. In addition to the claim handled by Lee, the proposed settlement would resolve two other suits, including one filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that accuse Abercrombie of discriminating against ethnic and racial minorities in its hiring practices. Bill Lann Lee, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, represented the race class and served as lead lawyer in the case. While the class size is unknown now, Jack Lee said it could range from 25,000 to 450,000 members, with the expected size between 25,000 and 75,000. The proposed settlement agreement provides a 130-day window during which applicants can fill out a form claiming harm. Once the class is identified, Lee expects the money to be disbursed within a year. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati partner Fred Alvarez is slated to monitor the company’s employment data for as many as 6 1/2 years along with Hunter Hughes III, an Atlanta employment lawyer who mediated the settlement negotiations. Both attorneys defend employers in disputes with workers. “They have some credibility with the defense, and we think they’re OK,” said Jack Lee.

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