Banished Employee, Others Speak Out Against Abercrombie's Awfulness

Riam Dean, the Abercrombie & Fitch employee who was sent to the stockroom because her prosthetic arm violated the store's "Look Policy," is suing for £20,000. Her mom and a fellow ex-Abercrombie employee e-mailed us about Abercrombie's discrimination.

Dean's mom, May, explained the situation thus:

[Abercrombie] hired her unaware that she had a disability, however when they were made aware, within 6 shifts, they removed her from the shop floor and wanted to hide her in their stock room because her prosthetic hand was breaking their "Look Policy". [...] her minor imperfection was repeatedly pointed out by various staff members who harassed her for wearing a mini cardigan (which she was instructed to wear over her usual uniform). After only her 2nd shift on the shop floor, she was told that they could not have her being seen on the shop floor, as she looked different to everybody else and asked her to report to the stockroom while they found a replacement.

So basically Riam Dean was not only discriminated against, but also jerked around, as store employees first forced her to wear a cardigan and then made fun of her for it. Riam told the BBC that her manager told her she could return to the sales floor if she removed the cardigan, and that this made her feel "taunted."

In her statement to the court, Riam says,

It made me feel as though [the store manager] had picked up on my most personal, sensitive and deeply buried insecurities about being accepted and included. Her words pierced right through the armour of 20 years of building up personal confidence about me as a person, and that I am much more than a girl with only one arm. She brought me back down to earth to a point where I questioned my self worth. My achievements and triumphs in life were brought right down to that moment where I realised that I was unacceptable to my employer because of how I looked. I have never before encountered the stark reality of this attitude, but deep down I have always feared this, and in that moment my worst fears were realised. My entire perception of my own my self worth was shattered. It was a moment of clarity and pain.

A former Abercrombie "visual manager," once in charge of hiring and recruiting, e-mailed to let us know that the discrimination against Dean was par for the course for the company. The ex-employee says that an Abercrombie regional manager "canceled one of my otherwise-perfectly-good hires when it turned out he had a deformed arm." He also says,

There is a "style guide" that hiring managers get to see. It contains almost no text - just a few dozen pages, each with a full-sized color photograph of different ethnicities - a male and a female for each. They are supposed to serve as examples of the kind of people you should hire. Presumably so the managers will know what good-looking minorities look like. They're amongst the confidential files that are never meant to leave the office, but I'm surprised none have ever surfaced. (And all of the minorities, by the way, are as white looking as a person can be without actually being Caucasian).

This sounds different from the "guidebook" that Dean was given as an employee, which dictated the length of her hair and fingernails — and frankly we're not sure which is more upsetting. All the information about Riam Dean's case suggests that her mistreatment was not an isolated incident, but rather part of a pattern of discriminatory and authoritarian policies that created not only a hostile work environment but also an environment that was subtly damaging to customers. After all, what kind of message does it send to shoppers when all your employees must be "white-looking" and conform to a bizarrely rigid set of appearance standards? May Dean says Riam "is prepared to put up a fight on behalf of all disabled people and refuses to allow such prejudice to go unnoticed." So do we.

Disabled woman sues clothes store [BBC]
Student With Prosthetic Arm Sues Clothing Store Abercrombie [Daily Express]
Riam Dean: "I Questioned My Self-Worth" [Zelda Lily]

Earlier: Abercrombie "Banishes" Girl With Prosthetic Arm To Storeroom Because She Doesn't Fit The "Look Policy"