American Apparel will fork over more than $300,000 to a black Oakland, Calif., employee after an American Apparel supervisor called him the “n” word. An Oakland arbitrator ruled in favor of the black employee, found that the supervisor “severely harassed” the plaintiff and ordered American Apparel to pay attorneys’ fees and damages.
American Apparel officials acknowledged the employee, visual artist Christopher Renfro, received a “relatively modest result in comparison to his original claim for over $1,000,000,” said attorney Joyce Crucillo. She added that Renfro’s claim of racial discrimination is the first and only claim of racial discrimination made by the company’s more than 10,000 employees.
The incident allegedly happened while the two were on a trip to Tennessee, where the supervisor, retail development specialist Sean Alonzo, and Renfro were assigned to revamp and renovate the image of American Apparel stores in Nashville and Memphis.
During this trip in the summer of 2007, Alonzo called Renfro the ‘n’ word in front of other American Apparel employees. Renfro reported it to human resources, and Alonzo admitted to calling Renfro the racial slur, but said that he was rapping.
According to the complaint, there was no disciplinary action immediately taken against Alonzo for the racial slur. However, in October 2007, when it became clear that Renfro would seek legal action, a letter of reprimand was sent to supervisor Alonzo, but, days later, he received a raise.
The arbitrator said supervisor Alonzo “demonstrated not only offensive racial hostility, but also a confused and persistent attempt to avoid blame for obvious wrongdoing.”
Employee Christopher Renfro resigned from the company, citing “constructive discharge.” According to answers.com, and other websites, constructive discharge “describes a situation in which an employee is forced to quit a job because the employer has made working conditions intolerable.”
American Apparel supervisor Alonzo is not a middle-management nobody. He reports directly to American Apparel CEO Dov Charney and still works for the company.