BUSINESS

Black Employee Accuses Tiffany & Company Of Racial Discrimination

05/30/2014 02:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2014
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Here we go again.

Just months after Barneys and Macy's were slapped with lawsuits stemming from racial profiling accusations, Tiffany & Company has found itself in the middle of its own racial discrimination firestorm.

The New York Times reports that Michael McClure, a group director for two Tiffany stores in Texas, filed a suit in federal court on Thursday accusing the fine jewelry company of a "systemic, nationwide pattern and practice of racial discrimination."

The lawsuit alleges that McClure is the only African-American to hold one of the more than 200 management positions at Tiffany, and that despite having received consistently glowing reviews since joining the company in 1993 and increasing sales 15 percent at one of his store locations this past year, McClure says he was given a "warning for termination" this spring. He claims the trouble began last fall, after Anthony Ledru was appointed Tiffany's new senior vice president for North America.

Shortly after his arrival, Ledru requested that store and group directors send him photographs of themselves so he could become familiar with the company leaders, since, he said, he travels so much and meets so many people. McClure says he was issued the warning shortly after that exercise, and claims in the lawsuit that the move was evidence of an "apparent agenda to get rid of him from the start and racial bias at Tiffany."

The luxury retailer has denied the allegations. Tiffany spokeswoman Linda Buckley said in a statement that McClure's claims are "without merit" and that the company will address McClure's "mischaracterizations" during the legal process.

"We welcome and value diversity in all forms and emphasize personal accountability and professionalism in a respectful and fair work environment," Buckley said.

Tiffany launched two internal investigations after McClure decided to hire a lawyer in May. However, according to the suit, while the investigations were taking place McClure received an anonymous interoffice envelope that read: "Shortly after Anthony Ledru visited your market he made a comment to a small group of male market vice presidents that I think you should be made aware of. In reference to you, he expressed a surprise that 'a black man is representing the Tiffany brand.'"

Robert D. Kraus, McClure's lawyer, told the Times that the suit illustrates "racial bias in the belief, conscious or otherwise, that African-Americans are not appropriate ambassadors for the iconic, luxurious and sophisticated Tiffany brand."

McClure's allegations against Tiffany hardly exist in a vacuum: Much has been written about the obstacles and prejudices that black people in the workforce must contend with. The unemployment rate among black people is almost double that of whites, a disparity that has existed for decades and that a college education doesn't seem to help with. Research has shown that job applicants with black-sounding names are contacted at a much lower rate than applicants whose names sound white. And once black employees are hired, they tend to earn significantly less than their white counterparts.

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