Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A black and blue lawsuit: Tiffany & Co. sued for race discrimination

My dog’s name is Loula Mae. “Loula” is name of the dog on the kids cartoon Pocoyo, which my son was obsessed with when we got her. “Mae” just sounded right to pair with Loula, and gives her a bit of a gentile, southern charm. Little did we know, however, that the birth-name of Holly Golightly, the iconic lead played by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is also Lula Mae. Now we know why our dog is so damn classy.

I only tell this story because today’s post is about the famous jewelry store, Tiffany & Co., which has gotten itself into a little legal mess over the racial composition of its management team and its alleged treatment of its lone African-American manager.

The New York Times reports that Michael McClure, a group director Tiffany since 1993, has sued the jeweler, claiming a “systemic, nationwide pattern and practice of racial discrimination.” According to McClure’s lawsuit, he is the only African-American to hold one of the more than 200 management positions at Tiffany. He further alleges that that despite consistently glowing reviews since his hire, the company gave him a “warning for termination” earlier this year. McClure claims that his new boss provided that warning after meeting McClure for the first time, and then telling a group of vice presidents that he was surprised “a black man is representing the Tiffany brand.”

A lawsuit is merely a collection of alleged, unproven facts. For its part, Tiffany says that the lawsuit is meritless, and that it “welcome[s] and value[s] diversity in all forms.”

An employer like Tiffany likely does not have any affirmative action requirements—that is, it does not have an obligation to hire a racially balanced workforce. Having said that, however, it does not look good when defending a race-discrimination lawsuit if only 0.5% of your managers are African American. Companies should hire the best employees and fire the worst. Yet, you also need to think about what your business looks like, if for no other reason than having an “almost-all-white” management team is not going to make it any easier to defend the race claim brought by your lone black manager.

photo credit: Shereen M via photopin cc