Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Abercrombie & Fitch humiliation of autistic child - no apology

There's a sickness in the culture of this clothing retailer. Emphases mine.
Abercrombie & Fitch fined in MOA discrimination case | StarTribune.com

A judge ordered retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch to pay $115,000 for discriminating against a 14-year-old autistic customer at its Mall of America store.

The civil penalty, the largest of its kind in at least two years, came four years after store employees refused to let the autistic teen join her older sister in a fitting room because of the clothing chain's anti-shoplifting policy. The store refused to relent even after the sister, and later the girls' mother, explained that the 14-year-old couldn't be alone because of her disability.

The confrontation humiliated the girl, who testified that the incident made her feel like a "misfit."

"She was singled out and required to hear her sister and mother repeatedly ask for accommodations based on her disability, in front of a long line of customers, at a store that markets itself to young people as a purveyor of a particularly desirable 'look' " administrative law judge Kathleen D. Sheehy declared in her ruling.

When several complaints to the company were ignored, the girl's mother, Elizabeth Maxson of Apple Valley, took the case to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The investigation encountered fierce resistance from Abercrombie & Fitch, a New Albany, Ohio-based company that posted $3.5 billion in revenues last year. The company even denied that the girl, identified only as M.M. in court documents, had a disability until the first day of the administrative law hearing in April. She was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 2.

In her ruling, Sheehy found that Abercrombie & Fitch violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act and ordered the company to pay the girl $25,000 for mental anguish and suffering. The company also was ordered to pay $25,000 to the state as a civil penalty, $41,069 in attorney's fees, $20,441 to the human rights department for its expenses and $3,753 in other expenses.

Abercrombie & Fitch also was ordered to post signs in its seven Minnesota store explaining that disabled individuals should seek out a sales associate to obtain an exception to the company's policy allowing only one person in the fitting room at a time. The company also must provide an hour of training for all employees in Minnesota who interact with the public to make sure they understand how to help disabled customers.

Abercrombie & Fitch has appealed the fine to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Four years. That's how long the Maxson family had to fight this, while Abercrombie's lawyers sat back and waited for them to give up. Even so the fine is pathetically small; for a company this size a meaningful fine would be on the order of $100 million, not $100 thousand.

Even so, Abercrombie and Fitch not only fails to apologize, they appeal the fine. Minnesota clearly needs much bigger fines.

... Developed and launched a comprehensive training curriculum. It includes e-learning based programs focused on diversity awareness and skill building, as well as, an innovative and provocative approach to education that we call reality-based learning. This approach is unique in that we base the learning on real-life issues that may take place in our store environment and reflects our work culture. The training scene is enacted by actors/inclusion experts during the training program, so that we can generate an interactive dialogue about how to solve relevant management issue...
Of course this statement follows a 2005 class action lawsuit for discrimination. Abercrombie and Fitch paid out $50 million for that one, but it obviously didn't touch their corporate culture.

This is one retailer we can do without. Don't shop there.

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