Posted September 15th, 2015.
By Dani Meyer
Law360, New York (September 15, 2015, 1:36 PM ET) — Giorgio Armani Corp. was slammed with a $75 million suit in the midst of New York Fashion Week by its former general counsel, who alleged in a Tuesday New York state court filing that he was discriminated against and fired for being Mexican and diagnosed with cancer.
Fabio Silva said he had a strong performance review but that Armani discriminated against him and subjected him to heightened scrutiny because of his nationality and fired him minutes after he disclosed that he had been officially diagnosed with cancer.
“General Counsel Silva has suffered emotional distress and reputational harm because of defendants’ discriminatory and retaliatory treatment and termination of his employment,” Silva said in the complaint. “Mr. Silva has built his reputation as a fashion lawyer, and defendants’ treatment and termination of Mr. Silva have embarrassed him and tarnished his well-earned reputation in the fashion and legal communities.”
Despite a strong performance review, Silva said Armani discriminated against him based on his nationality. Silva alleged the company’s chief financial officer, Thomas Chan, stated multiple times that “I don’t trust Mexicans” and subjected Silva to “heightened scrutiny and unfair criticism” after learning Silva is from Mexico.
When Silva complained about the discrimination in December, he said Chief Operations Officer Giorgio Fornari took several weeks to respond and then brushed it off as an awkward situation, while the senior vice president of organizational development and human resources, Lucinda Rosso, called it an overreaction.
The company then used his discrimination complaint against him, Silva said, claiming that the company refused to give him a raise despite a strong performance review.
In June, Silva learned that he had a possibly malignant tumor. When the diagnosis of colon cancer was confirmed in July, Silva said he met with Rosso to let her know, and that she fired him minutes later.
“Using the same words that the company’s chief financial officer had used to denigrate Mexicans, defendant Rosso told Mr. Silva that the company could no longer ‘trust’ Mr. Silva,” Silva said. “When Mr. Silva protested the termination and pointed out that he had recently received a high rating in his last performance review, Ms. Rosso dismissed this evidence of Mr. Silva’s strong performance, saying, ‘It doesn’t matter.’”
Silva’s suit accuses Armani, Presidio International Inc., CEO Giorgio Armani, Fornari and Rosso of four violations of the New York City Human Rights Law, including hostile work environment, retaliation, unlawful discharge based on national origin and unlawful discharge based on disability.
Silva demands damages in excess of $75 million for lost compensation, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages.
David Sanford, an attorney for Silva, told Law360 on Tuesday that it’s a unique suit.
“It presents a rather extraordinary set of facts and will ultimately be up to a jury in New York City about whether the termination is due to retaliation, due to his speaking out about discrimination in the work environment,” Sanford said.
Representatives for Armani didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
Silva is represented by David Sanford, Jeremy Heisler and Alexandra Harwin of Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP.
Counsel information for the defendants wasn’t available Tuesday.
The case is Silva v. Giorgio Armani Corp. et al., case number 159449/2015, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.
–Editing by John Quinn.