Destiny Tompkins, 19, was on her shift at the Banana Republic inside New York’s Westchester Mall when the manager, who was visiting the store during a site visit, said he couldn’t schedule more shifts for her if she didn’t take her braids out, and, gasp, he even offered her “shea butter,” perhaps to take down the braids. Tompkins started working at the store on Sept. 19 and was wearing her natural hair.

A sophomore at SUNY Purchase, she outlines the ordeal on her Facebook account on Oct. 4, 2017:

so today I went into work at Banana Republic at the Westchester Mall and after the district manager (a white woman) popped in for a visit, I was told to go to the office to speak with my manager, Michael (Mike), who is a white man. I came in and he questioned me about the dress code and immediately, I thought there was something wrong with my outfit but he sat me down and questioned my hair instead. He told me that my braids were not Banana Republic appropriate and that they were too “urban” and “unkempt” for their image. He said that if I didn’t take them out then he couldn’t schedule me for shifts until I did. When I tried to explain to him that it was a protective style for my hair bc it tends to become really brittle in the cold, he recommended that I use shea butter for it instead. I have never been so humiliated and degraded in my life by a white person. In that moment, I felt so uncomfortable and overwhelmed that I didn’t even finish my work shift and ended up leaving. When my friend’s mom called the store to find out my manager’s last name (only been working there a month so idk it), he refused to give it to her. Box braids are not a matter of unprofessionalism, they are protective styles black women have used for their hair and to be discriminated against because of it is truly disgusting and unacceptable. Make this public bc they need to be exposed for their blatant racism and discrimination. There’s no reason why a white person should feel allowed to tell me that I can’t wear my hair the way that I want bc it’s too black for their store image. Banana Republic

A Banana Republic spokesperson issued a statement to Glamour magazine a few days later:

“This week, one of our store managers questioned an African American employee’s braided hair style. Our team began an immediate investigation, and the manager involved was promptly removed from the store. Today, we concluded the investigation and can confirm that the manager has been terminated from the company. Banana Republic has zero tolerance for discrimination. This situation was completely unacceptable, counter to our policies, and in no way reflects our company’s beliefs and values.”

Their spokesperson, Sheikina Liverpool, added, “As a company, we have zero tolerance for discrimination. We take this matter very seriously, and we are actively conducting an investigation. We are committed to upholding an inclusive environment where our customers and our employees feel respected.”

Tompkins is now suing the company for $1M for racial discrimination. She filed the lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Monday, Nov. 13 and it names Banana Republic, the parent company, Gap Inc., White Plains store manager Michael Gennis and regional manager Jill Matejunas.

Tompkins was “not willing to conform to … expectation and/or policy of how a female, African-American employee should look,” the lawsuit says.

 

Yvette Caslin

I’m a writer, image architect & significance marketer. Love photojournalism, creative expression & originality.