High-End Designer Brand Versace Accused of Racial Discrimination

Mark Babatunde January 04, 2017
A Versace store in San Fransico is facing a discrimination lawsuit after it fired an employee because he "doesn't know the luxury life." Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times

Italian fashion house Versace has been accused of racial discrimination and is facing a lawsuit after a former employee filed charges against the luxury brand. Christopher Sampino, 23, is suing Versace for racial discrimination and wrongful termination after he was fired from his retail job at the brand’s outlet shop outside San Francisco, according to Cosmopolitan.

According to court documents, Sampino claims that employees at the Versace outlet in the Bay Area were trained to use the code word “D410” to alert each other whenever a Black person walked into the store.

“D410” is also the store’s code for indexing all black clothing. Sampino adds that his manager instructed him to hold up black colored clothing when using the code so that people wouldn’t know that he was referring to Black customers.

Sampino, who racially identifies himself as one-quarter African American, says he reacted immediately by asking the store’s manager, “You know that I’m African American?”

He was fired two weeks later, but before that, he says he was denied the necessary rest breaks and he never received the basic employee training. In addition, he was never given a login password to access the store’s online database for employees.

In his court deposition, Sampino said store management told him that he was fired because he “doesn’t understand luxury” and “doesn’t know the luxury life.”

Last Friday, Versace issued an email press release in response to the discrimination accusations:

Versace believes strongly in equal opportunity, as an employer and a retailer. We do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or any other characteristic protected by our civil rights laws. We have denied the allegations in this suit, and we will not comment further concerning pending litigation.

Pattern of Racism

Sampino’s case is but the latest in a long list of instances where African-American and people of Black ancestry are the victims of subtle racial profiling or veiled racism in high-end stores and departmental retail outlets.

In 2013, talk show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey was a victim of racism on a visit to Switzerland when a shop assistant refused to show her a high-end designer bag because she did not believe a Black person could be wealthy enough to afford it.

Later that same year, in the wake of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, President Obama recalled his painful experiences of being followed around as a young man whenever he shopped in a departmental store because store owners equated the color of his skin to a criminal background.

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator.

There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And, you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.

And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

Poll If the allegations made against Versace are true, will you boycott the brand?

Last Edited by:Charles Gichane Updated: January 4, 2017


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