Eight men are suing retailer Saks Fifth Avenue, alleging that its New York City outlets discriminated against them on grounds of race and age.
NBC News reports that the group of ex-employees are mostly African-American; many are also older. They say their ethnicity and age were such impediments to progress at Saks that they felt trapped beneath a ‘glass ceiling.’
Several of the men, represented by the Cochran Firm, were hired into Saks’ flagship store in New York City in 2010 and 2011. They were placed into low-traffic departments and sections, limiting their ability to interact with customers or make a case for advancement.
“Although they were each committed to maintaining SAKS’ reputation as a luxury retailer by providing stellar customer service, their respective managers deliberately targeted them because of their race and/or age,” Cochrain claimed in the suit, which was filed in Bronx County’s Supreme Court.
During a press conference Tuesday morning, Cochran attorney Derek Sells said that Saks has a “very disturbing” lack of diversity in its upper ranks.
One of the plaintiffs described by NBC, Derick Longley, joined Saks in August 2016. Longley, who is black, was hired as a sales associate for Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label merchandise.
Longley claims that one of his colleagues, Ralph Lauren’s brand ambassador, repeatedly accused Longley of “speaking ‘ghetto’ and ‘Ebonics’” to black customers and “told him to refrain from doing so.”
Longley says the same colleague prevented him from obtaining a promotion, “claiming that he did not have the ‘look’ clearly referring to the fact that he is African-American.”
But Longley, claims the suit, “excelled” at his job. He surpassed his position sales goal of $300,000 within six months of being hired.
Nevertheless, Longley maintains he was subject to a hostile work environment—a hostile work environment that once prompted another associate to ‘yell at’ Longley while he was attempting to sell an $80,000 bag to a prospective customer.
“None of Longley’s similarly-situated Caucasian counterparts were treated in this fashion,” says the suit, adding that Longley was terminated in August 2017.
Sells says that several of the plaintiffs, who were hired before Longley, report an uptick in workplace hostility after Saks was acquired by Hudson’s Bay in 2013.
An example Sells gave—recounted by the Associated Press—describes how the men were required to register customers’ information using a computer system. The system, according to Sells, would constantly malfunction, rendering error messages.
But the plaintiffs’ repeated complaints to managers and technical support went unanswered. The system continued to malfunction; several of the plaintiffs were later given poor performance evaluations for not registering enough customer information.
Sells claims that younger, white employees did not have similarly poor evaluations, with their under-performance either ignored or ameliorated by superiors’ willingness to provide them with workarounds.
Sixty-eight year old Thomas Biskley, one of the suit’s two white plaintiffs, says he was outperforming sales expectations during the quarter he began encountering computer problems. Multiple complaints again went unaddressed, and Biskley was fired less than a half-year later.
“It was quite clear to me,” Biskley said, “that they wanted to get me out of there because I was of a certain age.”
The suit seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages.