LONDON – A British woman with a prosthetic arm has filed a discrimination claim against Abercrombie & Fitch Co., alleging the U.S. retailer made her work in the stockroom because she didn't conform to its "look policy."
Riam Dean is seeking up to $41,000 in damages at an employment tribunal that began Wednesday.
Dean, a 22-year-old law student at the University of London, told the tribunal she worked at Abercrombie's store on London's posh Saville Row and had been given permission to wear a white sweater over the company-issued white polo shirt to cover her prosthetic arm.
But in July 2008, several weeks after she started work, a manager sent her to the stockroom, saying the cardigan violated the store's "look policy," Dean said.
She said the same manager later taunted her and challenged her to go back out to the shop floor with her arm uncovered.
"It made me feel as though she had picked up on my most personal, sensitive and deeply buried insecurities about being accepted and included," Dean said.
Dean said she was asked by an employee from the company head office whether it would be possible "to keep you in the stockroom until the winter uniform arrives." She said she later received an e-mail from management saying she had been "erroneously placed on the shop floor."
Abercrombie & Fitch said in a statement it "has a strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy." It said Dean's account of what happened was inaccurate.
Dean, who was born missing her left forearm, said she did not mention her disability when she was interviewed for the job.
"I have never had any concessions made because of my arm, and all of my life my family friends and other have treated me equally. I would not have it any other way," she said.
She said her experience at the store had left her shaken.
"I was always prepared for children to be curious about my disability, but to be faced with adult bullying, no one could have prepared me for such debasement," she said.
Akash Nawbatt, a lawyer for the company, said Abercrombie had never asked Dean to cover her prosthetic arm and that the cardigan had been a temporary solution. He said that about a week after Dean was asked to work in the stockroom, the company proposed wearing a fleece top during the summer as a permanent solution and that this concession was made specifically for her.
The hearing is expected to last for three days.
The New Albany, Ohio-based company is known for its edgy advertisements and shops with nightclub atmosphere. It has faced criticism in the past by those who claim it deliberately selects young, good-looking people to work in its stores.
In 2004 it spent $50 million to settle a number of employment discrimination lawsuits in the United States.