A Black Forever 21 employee who sued the company alleging she has been unfairly denied promotions to manager because of her race, subjected to racially inappropriate comments by her boss, and demoted and transferred to another store when she complained about her work conditions has reached a settlement with the fashion retailer.
An attorney for plaintiff Monica Fowler told Los Angeles County Superior Court Daniel S. Murphy during a case management conference on Wednesday, Sept. 14, that the case was resolved. No terms were divulged.
In their court papers, attorneys for Forever 21 denied any wrongdoing on the part of the clothing store chain and said some of Fowler’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations.
Fowler was still employed by the company at the time her lawsuit was filed March 1, alleging harassment, race discrimination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation as well as negligent hiring, supervision and retention. Fowler held the position of team lead at the Arcadia store in the Westfield Santa Anita mall from September 2018 until September 4, 2020, when she was demoted to a sales associate and transferred, according to the suit. Prior to her demotion, Fowler, the only Black employee at the store, “experienced repeated and ongoing racial harassment and discrimination” by her supervisor, Araz Berberian, a co-defendant in the case, the suit stated.
When Black customers entered the store, Berberian called Fowler on her electronic device and told her to follow them around the store “to ensure they weren’t stealing,” according to the suit. Berberian often asked Fowler, “Do you think I’m racist if I think they’re stealing?” and “Is it OK for me to say this about a Black person?” the suit stated. Berberian told Fowler that he and other employees at the Forever 21 store where he previously worked often caught Black people taking items without paying for them, the suit stated.
Fowler regularly asked for a promotion to manager given that as a lead, she had the duties and responsibilities of one without receiving the same pay, the suit stated. However, Fowler was twice passed up for a management position, the suit stated. In March 2020, Berberian told Fowler she would be given a promotion to manager the next time there was an opening, but the job was given instead to a non-Black employee, according to the suit. Fowler complained to human resources in June 2020 that she was unfairly denied a higher position, but Berberian confronted her the next day and said, “You know that whenever someone complains about me to HR, I know about it, right?,” the suit stated.
Although the human resources manager told Fowler her complaints about Berberian would be investigated, in September 2020, Berberian told her she was being transferred to the Ontario store and demoted to a sales associate, the suit stated.
“In short, (Fowler) was subjected to a pattern and practice of racial harassment and discrimination and unlawful retaliation … which caused her to experience significant emotional distress and economic losses,” the suit stated.