A gay Jewish lawyer is alleging that fashion company Zara has an anti-Semitic corporate culture that emanates from the top, Forbes reported Wednesday.
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Lawyers for Ian Jack Miller, who served as Zara's first and only in-house attorney throughout the United States and Canada from January 2008 until March 2015, filed a $40 million discrimination suit on the grounds that he was fired because he is Jewish, American and gay. They noted that he lost his job despite having helped the company increase its profits.
The suit, filed in New York’s Supreme Court, points a finger at Amancio Ortega, founder of the Inditex fashion group, which owns the chain of Zara clothing and accessories retail shops, for creating the hostile culture.
"Zara favors employees who like the Company’s founder and majority shareholder Amancio Ortega Goana – are straight, Spanish, and Christian," the lawsuit charges. "For example, senior executives at Zara openly used racial slurs and exchanged racist emails, including emails portraying Michelle Obama serving fried chicken and emails depicting Barack Obama in a Ku Klux Klan hood, with a Confederate flag, on a Cream of Wheat box, on an Aunt Jemima box, and shining shoes."
According to the suit, "Supervisors and colleagues sent Mr. Miller homophobic emails, made anti-Semitic remarks in his presence, and boasted that Spanish employees enjoyed more job security than employees of other nationalities." It charges that consequently Miller received lower raises than employees "who did not share his protected characteristics, even though Mr. Miller was a strong performer, the Company’s revenues were growing, and other Zara employees who fit the Company’s preferred profile received higher raises.
Consequently, "The overriding message of these actions and communications was that Mr. Miller was an outsider who was unwelcome at Zara," the lawsuit asserts.
Miller was allegedly targeted by Ortega's trusted lieutenants, who emailed graphic porn to Miller highlighting gay sex scenes, bragged about sexual exploits with female subordinates, and discussed visiting prostitutes during work trips, Forbes reported.
Miller asserts the company's anti-Semitic culture drove him to hide his identity. According to the lawsuit as reported by Forbes, the CEO of Zara’s American business, a close confidant of Ortega’s, repeatedly described the retail chain’s Jewish landlords and Jewish real estate developers as “los judios” or “the Jews.”
Zara's New York executives targeted, excluded and eventually fired Miller soon after discovering that he was Jewish, the lawsuit asserts.
Miller is seeking damages for a hostile work environment, pay discrimination, and discriminatory and retaliatory termination, including back-pay, front-pay, compensatory damages, liquidated damages, and punitive damages, Forbes reported.
Zara USA responded: “Zara USA is a diverse and multicultural company that is part of a worldwide organization that has more than 140,000 employees of different nationalities, cultures, languages and beliefs across 88 countries. We have a strong social commitment based on fairness, respect and equality for all. In keeping with our global success, we work hard to create exciting and rewarding work environments for each of our employees.
"The allegations contained in a plaintiff’s press release today are shocking, and – although we have not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit – we will respond strongly and vigorously to these allegations in the Court.
"We do not tolerate any behavior that is discriminatory or disrespectful, but value each individual’s contributions to our dynamic organization.”