Abercrombie & Fitch worker banished to stockroom for breaking ‘look policy’

From the Daily Mail 16/06/09:

A disabled law student is suing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch for discrimination, claiming it made her work in a stockroom because her prosthetic arm didn't fit its public image.

Riam Dean, 22, was just days into a part-time job at the U.S. firm's flagship London store when she says she was asked to leave the shop floor.

She was born with her left forearm missing and has worn a prosthetic limb since she was three months old but insists she has never allowed her disability to get in her way.

[Dean] was also given a uniform of jeans and a polo shirt, although the company handbook does state that sales associates can wear their own clothing as long as it is in 'Abercrombie style'.

Miss Dean, ... normally wears long-sleeved tops to disguise the join between her upper arm and artificial limb, says she was told to buy a plain white cardigan to wear over her uniform.

But matters came to a head a few days later.

'A worker from what they call the "visual team", people who are employed to go round making sure the shop and its staff look up to scratch, came up to me and demanded I take the cardigan off.

'I told her, yet again, that I had been given special permission to wear it,' she recalled.

'A few minutes later my manager came over to me and said: "I can't have you on the shop floor as you are breaking the Look Policy. Go to the stockroom immediately and I'll get someone to replace you."

'Afterwards I telephoned the company's head office where a member of staff asked whether I was willing to work in the stockroom until the winter uniform arrived.

'That was the final straw. I just couldn't go back.'

Miss Dean, who has just sat her final law exams, is due to take her case to the Central London Employment Tribunal later this month and is seeking damages of £25,000


Riam Dean Aside from the rather shocking issues of (alleged) discrimination here, it’s the fickleness of companies when it comes to uniforms which always astounds me. With a casual dress code such as the one Abercrombie & Fitch employed, policing the uniformity of the ‘uniforms’ with such uncompromising rigidity is frankly bizarre. Let’s remember that this debacle essentially kicked-off over a white cardigan (the same colour as the polo shirts which Abercrombie & Fitch require their shop floor workers to wear) and which the branch manager had verified as being suitable.  Anecdotally, I’ve heard recently of a well known chain in the British high street which employs a more conventional uniform and implements a ‘black sock only policy’.  This aspect they police in the manner of the Gestapo, yet inexplicably turn a blind eye to a couple of workers arriving to work in jeans and permit them to work at the tills.

More often than not panics over uniform are induced by a visit from head office – a guaranteed way of ensuring the management adopt a misguided and delusional sense of prioritisation in the immediate future. (Read as *more* misguided and delusional than usual). It’s ironic that employers worry excessively over policing uniform standards when it is the conduct and work ethic of their staff which remains the real problem.

But credit to Riam Dean here for having the fortitude to make a stand over this.  Perhaps she took employment law as an option on her LLB.  ;-)

Interestingly Abercrombie & Fitch settled over allegations of discrimination back in 2005 for $25 million.


  1. That's absolutely disgusting! No matter if she had a disability or not, her uniform was cleared by her managers and she had authority to wear that. The fact that some higher up manager had the nerve to question it is disgusting. This is probably why I hate working in retail SO much. Managers higher up on the hierarchy are too concerned about looks etc and not the actual reasons. Had the dumbass checked then she wouldn't have needed to question the girl's uniform. If I was this girl I would have argued as much as I could and if worse came to worse I would have walked out!!
    At least she's using her degree to the fullest ;)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Pooni. Glad you agree. Am I right in saying that you work part time in retail as well as volunteering at a law firm?

    BTW: I've tidied up that post now - there were a shocking number of errors in it earlier! :-(

  3. Yeh part time in retail and volunterring in the weekdays...hopefully not for much longer lol...absolutely hate retail with a passion and see no reason why I should be tortured any more than I have to there lol!!

  4. I'm shocked that such a well known brand would do this. If they allowed what she was wearing it is just ridiculous. I'm glad she took a stand about this - I'd like to hope I'd be brave enough to the same thing, but maybe I'm just too passive when it comes to standing up for me.

  5. Michael,

    I work in retail as a trainee manager (as you probably know) and I'm a bit of a uniform nazi myself - I know I wouldn't want to be served by half the scruffs that turn up to the stoer each day and I make them go and get themselves more presentable. However, this is just totally rediculous and is just down right discrimination.

    I really do hope that she wins her case.

  6. That is shocking. I'm glad she knew her rights. Theres so many people who face horrible situations and don't know that they can actually do something about them. She should have sued Abercrombie & Fitch for more money...

  7. I know Ms Dean very well, we go to the same Uni.

    She didn't take employment law as one of her options, but is quite a clever girl.

    I did not notice her "disability" for months after I first met her, it was only til someone pointed it out to me that I realised she had a prosthetic arm, that I realised.

    She is a pretty girl, and always normally wears cardigans, and jumpers so as not to bring attention to her disability.

    From what I understand the treatment of her by A&F was degrading to say the least.

    I hope she wins.. and shares some money with me!

  8. Saw this story in the London paper. Good on her.

    I can't stand the A&F store. For a start, the prices are the same in pounds as in dollars- which is just plain wrong, esp when it opened at the dollar was 2 to the pound. (And placement in Savile Row, near where the famous tailors are and up the road from Chanel and Gucci? Yeh right)

    More importantly it's the topless 17 year old boys at the door that bug me. And the staff inside that think they're too good looking to actually be of any help. And the lack of any decent lighting in there- being able to see what I'm buying might be helpful.

    In short, I'm not a fan. Especially not now I realise they are image fascists to their staff as well as customers.

  9. I love A&F clothes. I was in one of their stores recently in America and bought so many things that I had trouble bringing them back to the UK in my suitcase. I thought the staff were very helpful.

    I am not at all impressed by this news story, though. I hope she deservedly wins compensation. Based on the photo, I wouldn't have noticed her disability if I met her in real life.

  10. That was very formal, Lost. You say you know Riam 'very well' but refer to her as 'Ms Dean'. I love it. :p

  11. Well I call her Ri, but the rest of you can refer to her as Ms Dean!

    The Gentleman Blogger

  12. Hmmmm. If you say so, Lost. :p

  13. I once worked at Abercrombie, it was a nightmare. Any deviation at all from the jock/cheerleader brand image was crushed - everyone was encouraged not just to dress the same but to act the same. There were two girls who worked there, one blonde and one brunette. There were ten copies of each. There were also two attractive Japanese cheerleader types, but that was as far as it went in terms of ethnic minorities - even after a lawsuit brought against them for discriminating against black people.

    Best of luck to this girl - she is absolutely right. I would have thought they would have paid her and had done with it, to avoid publicity. The irony is that they would never have employed her in the first place if she wasn't so attractive and otherwise in keeping with the "brand".

  14. A&F does discriminate. Here they only hire the typical as the above person said JOCK/cheerleader Image. I've seen these in other stores as well....which is very unfair for other races. This limits the work experience for others.

    Best of luck to you DEAN, you've got my support here from Canada.

  15. I hate Abercrombie. I once bought a hoody from the London shop and I regret giving them my money. I won't even wear it, they sicken me so much.
    I don't know about the American shops, but the London one is terrible. I recall asking an assistant where I could find a denim skirt, and he pointed at one single skirt that someone had discarded saying 'there's one over there.' I walked straight out. This matter just makes it so much worse, they state that they are against discrimination of age, gender, race disability etc. but I've never seen or heard of anyone over 25 on the shop floor, in terms of race I have seen a couple of pretty japanese girls, but that's all, and this one kicks the disability bucket too! Apalling.


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