by Rachel Swan
In the past couple years clothing company American Apparel has garnered criticism for its policy of firing — or simply not hiring — employees who it deems too ugly , as Gawker's "Apparel watch" bloggers have repeatedly noted. And now, it's contending with a different form of internal ugliness, specifically, that of racial discrimination. Last Wednesday, an arbitrator in Oakland ruled in favor of plaintiff Christopher Renfro, a former American Apparel employee who alleged that his supervisor, Sean Alonzo, repeatedly called him a "nigger" during a July 2007 business trip to renovate American Apparel stores in Tennessee. According to testimony, the company avoided disciplining Mr. Alonso until it was threatened with litigation in October. At that point, it gave him a written warning, followed by a pay raise two days later.
The final score? $343 K awarded to Mr. Renfro, $310 of which would go to his attorneys, according to a California state law that entitles any winning plaintiff to be reimbursed for his attorney fees. American Apparel's chief litigation counsel Joyce Crucillo said this was all small change compared to the original $1 million settlement that Renfro sought after resigning from the company. Another former employee, Irene Morales, might fare better with her sexual harassment lawsuit, which could yield a quarter billion dollars, should she prevail.