- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

Abercrombie & Fitch, a chain that some say markets a “classic American look,” faces a lawsuit, filed by a group of “civil rights organizations,” aided by a law firm that specializes in “anti-discrimination cases.”

Why? The clothier allegedly suddenly either fired or demoted Hispanic and Asian floor salespersons in favor of women possessing this so-called “all-American look” — presumably blond surfer types. (Note: A friend recently visited an Abercrombie & Fitch store and noted at least two Asian saleswomen.)

Abercrombie & Fitch, according to the lawsuit, suddenly terminated an Asian-American floor saleswoman, with three years experience, longer than any other employee in their Costa Mesa, Calif., store. Similarly, management allegedly asked Hispanic workers to either accept nonvisible positions, such as stock clerk, or to leave the company altogether.

According to an attorney for the plaintiffs: “Through means both subtle and direct, Abercrombie has consistently reinforced to its store managers that they must recruit and maintain an overwhelmingly white work force. The company has systematically cultivated an all-white ‘A&F; Look’ and then faulted Latino, African-American and Asian-American applicants, potential recruits and employees for failing to fit this racially exclusive image.”

The plaintiffs further claim Abercrombie & Fitch “direct[ed] that minority Brand Representatives [salespersons] be fired, moved to a stockroom or overnight shift or have their hours ‘zeroed out,’ which is the equivalent of termination.”

One plaintiff said: “Abercrombie’s corporate representatives came to our store on an inspection tour, pointed to a picture of a white male model and told the manager that he needed to make the store ‘look more like this.’ Within two weeks, five Asian-American employees, including me, were terminated and an African-American Brand Representative was transferred to the night shift at a different store. The store then hired about five white Brand Representatives to replace us.”

Let’s analyze this.

A popular Los Angeles Thai restaurant features an all-Thai, female waitressing staff. The restaurant, part of a chain, hires Thai women, some relatives of the owners, but many outside the founding and operating family circle. Meanwhile, Black Entertainment Television hires black hosts, black news anchors, and plays predominantly all black videos. And, on a cable news/talk TV show, the host featured a debate on abortion between two … supermodels, one taking the “pro-life,” the other the “pro-choice” position. Supermodels? As a friend and successful Hollywood writer recently put it, “On television, people don’t like to watch unattractive people.” Somebody, quick — draft a law to prevent a producer from selecting less-than-expert guests who possess photogenic faces.

Yet, though a private organization, Abercrombie & Fitch faces government laws preventing it from determining how, for ill or for good, to best meet its perceived marketing niche. Never mind that customers, employees and prospective employees who feel “discriminated against” can refuse to patronize an establishment that refuses to hire those who “look like us.”

At least one of the unhired applicants found work at Banana Republic, another clothing establishment that, according to him, “has almost all minorities working there.” Does Banana Republic’s sales staff result from laws pressuring companies to seek a “diverse work force,” or because Banana Republic’s marketing niche seeks a “diverse” clientele, or because they simply hired based on their perceived quality of the applicant?

In either case, a private business ought to have the right to hire and fire as it pleases, just as employees may quit and customers may refuse to patronize the store.

My father, for nearly 40 years, ran a cafe in a heavily Hispanic area in Los Angeles. He found, however, by limiting hiring to non-Spanish speakers, he scared off clientele unable to speak English, and, thus, business suffered. He eventually hired bilingual Latinas, providing comfort to a large segment of his clientele, and watched his business increase. My father worked like a dog, waking up at 4:30 in the morning, to open at 6:00, with his hours from 6:30 to 2:30, and then spent several hours after closing, cleaning and prepping for the next day. The government never knocked on his door to inquire about his lack of employee “diversity.” But, it appears, a large business such as Abercrombie & Fitch must live in fear of the federal and state “anti-discrimination” police.

Rosa Parks, and others in the civil rights movement, quite properly objected to discrimination by government, in Mrs. Parks’ case, a municipal, tax-supported bus company. This includes, by the way, public institutions like the University of Michigan. Yet, the Supreme Court, in a “split decision,” still allows schools to take race in consideration as a factor in admissions.

As for Abercrombie & Fitch’s alleged motive to fire certain employees, the solution remains a vibrant, thriving, low-tax, low-regulated economy to provide choices and options for workers. Also, Abercrombie & Fitch’s hiring practices perhaps create entrepreneurial opportunities for others to cater to the “offended” clientele.

We have a word for this. We call it capitalism.

Larry Elder is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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