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Abercrombie & Fitch has agreed to settle a trio of employment discrimination suits for nearly $50 million, the firm disclosed Tuesday in SEC filings. The proposed settlement provides a victory for two San Francisco firms. Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and Minami, Lew & Tamaki had brought two of the suits accusing the Ohio-based retailer of favoring white men in its branding and hiring. The details of the proposed settlement, which is expected to include injunctive relief, remain confidential for the moment. Lawyers on both sides of the Abercrombie suit said they had agreed to stay quiet pending review by Judge Susan Illston in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which could happen as early as next week. “It’s out of respect to the court,” said defense lawyer Thomas Ridgley, a partner in Ohio firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. He added that the settlement was disclosed Tuesday only because that was the date the SEC required Abercrombie to file its quarterly report. Abercrombie has previously denied all claims. Attorneys representing individual plaintiffs, advocacy groups and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Abercrombie in San Francisco federal court last year, alleging the company discriminates against ethnic minorities and women by encouraging its roughly 700 stores to hire an overwhelmingly white male sales force, dubbed “brand representatives.” The suits were a multi-headed effort. Lead plaintiff attorney Bill Lann Lee, a partner at Lieff Cabraser, filed the race discrimination claim, while Jack Lee, of Minami, Lew, filed the gender allegation. The EEOC’s claim encompassed both charges. In the race complaint, Bill Lann Lee wrote that Abercrombie “rigorously maintains the ‘A&F Look’ by careful scrutiny and monitoring of its stores by regional and district managers and corporate representatives.” Employees without that look, the suit alleges, were moved to backroom jobs or fired. The complaint names 16 plaintiffs, most of them college students, who say they were fired or not hired due to their race. The suits had not yet been certified as class actions. A number of nonprofits backed the plaintiffs, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Rainbow/Push Coalition, Asian Pacific American Legal Center and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Employment lawyers say the settlement is significant not so much for its size as for the precedent it sets for plaintiffs making unconventional claims. “It’s the new face of discrimination,” said Brad Seligman, the executive director of the Impact Fund in Berkeley and lead attorney in several class actions. He said that in the past, employment discrimination suits generally focused on age or gender or race. The Abercrombie litigation, though, looked at the company’s entire branding practice. “It was almost image discrimination. Abercrombie & Fitch had an image of what they wanted their sales force to look like, and it was kind of preppy, white and male.” Gilmore Diekmann Jr., a partner at Seyfarth Shaw who specializes in employment class action defense, said the settlement is also notable for the fact that many potential class members were never hired by the company. In the past, he said, prospective employees have had trouble bringing claims. “They probably have no clue” of how many people will seek a cut of the settlement, he said.

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