Case Type: Employment Discrimination
Company: Zara USA, Inc.
June 3, 2015, New York, NY – Sanford Heisler, LLP today filed a $40 million lawsuit against Zara USA, Inc., the flagship brand for the largest fashion retailer in the world, Inditex Group. The lawsuit alleges that Zara discriminated against and then fired its in-house counsel, Ian Jack Miller, because he is Jewish, American, and gay. The case seeks damages for creating a hostile work environment, pay discrimination, and unlawful and retaliatory termination based on Mr. Miller’s nationality, religion, and sexual orientation.
The lawsuit alleges that Zara favors employees who are straight, Spanish, and Christian – like Amancio Ortega Goana, the company’s founder, its majority shareholder, and the second-richest person in the world according to the new Bloomberg Billionaires Index released today. According to the complaint, several of the individuals who were primarily responsible for discriminating against or harassing Mr. Miller were installed personally by Mr. Ortega and were immunized from punishment because of their close relationships with Mr. Ortega. One example is Zara USA’s Chief Executive Officer, a close personal friend of Mr. Ortega who is accused of denigrating the Jewish landlords and Jewish real estate developers that Zara works with, repeatedly referring to them behind their back simply as “los judios” – “the Jews.”
The complaint alleges that top executives and confidants of Amancio Ortega harassed Mr. Miller by emailing graphic pornography, talking about penis size, bragging about sexual exploits with female subordinates, and discussing visiting prostitutes during work trips. The lawsuit also describes how Zara’s top executives regularly exchanged racist emails, including emails portraying Michelle Obama serving fried chicken and emails depicting Barack Obama in a Ku Klux Klan hood, with a Confederate flag, on a Cream of Wheat box, on an Aunt Jemima box, and shining shoes.
For years, Mr. Miller did not discuss his Jewish background because of the company’s open anti-Semitism. But when Zara USA’s top executives learned that Mr. Miller was Jewish, their reaction was swift. Mr. Miller was targeted: individuals throughout the office began probing into his religious identity, Mr. Miller’s direct supervisor shut him out of meetings and excluded him from emails, the annual increases to his salary and bonus dropped precipitously, and ultimately Mr. Miller was unceremoniously fired after seven years of service.
This is not the first time Zara has been accused of anti-Semitism. In 2007, the company sold handbags depicting swastikas. In 2014, Zara released children’s pajamas resembling concentration camp uniforms. These actions prompted an international outcry. On Facebook, 22.4 million users reportedly posted comments condemning the company’s concentration camp pajamas. Articles detailing Zara’s history of anti-Semitic gaffes appeared throughout the news media. Fortune Magazine published an article entitled, “Why Zara can’t seem to stop selling anti-Semitic clothing.”
“Mr. Miller was not a member of Zara’s favored demographic,” said David Sanford, Lead Counsel for Mr. Miller. “Because of Mr. Miller’s outsider status, Zara overlooked Mr. Miller’s stellar performance, marginalized his role in the company, and gave him lower raises than employees who fit the company’s preferred profile. The campaign of discrimination culminated with Zara’s discriminatory and retaliatory firing of Mr. Miller.”
It was customary for the company to offer its corporate employees the opportunity to transfer to other offices. Instead, Zara fired Mr. Miller without offering him a severance or a transitional period to seek other employment or to otherwise negotiate the terms of his future with the company. There was no performance-based explanation for terminating Mr. Miller, who had consistently received strong performance reviews and had just managed the legal side of a blockbuster real estate acquisition – the $300 million purchase of Zara’s new flagship store in SoHo. The complaint alleges that Inditex Group’s highest-ranking lawyer repeatedly admitted to Mr. Miller that the company’s treatment of him was “unfair.”
In addition to David Sanford, the Sanford Heisler team representing Mr. Miller includes Jeremy Heisler, Alexandra Harwin, and David Tracey in the firm’s New York City office.
The lawsuit names Zara USA, its Country Manager, Dilip Patel, and its former Chief Executive Officer, Moises Costas, as defendants. Mr. Miller seeks damages in excess of $40 million for hostile work environment, pay discrimination, and discriminatory and retaliatory termination, including back-pay, front-pay, compensatory damages, liquidated damages, and punitive damages.
A jury trial is requested.