Abercrombie & Fitch Class-Action Discrimination Lawsuit Details

Carla Barrientos was 19 years old when she first started working at Abercrombie & Fitch at Valley Plaza Shopping Center in Bakersfield, California. It was the early 2000s, and the elk-adorned clothing and suggestive marketing of the brand were the pinnacle of style. But when Barrientos, allegedly the only Black employee working at the store, was randomly given overtime and subsequently fired, she joined a class-action lawsuit against the company. In June 2003, she, along with eight others, sue Abercrombie & Fitch because the racism and sexism. The company settled and admitted no guilt, though it paid $40 million and signed a consent decree to change practices and promote diversity across the brand.. However, A&F’s leadership remains intact, including its controversy The CEO at the time was Mike Jeffries. Now available in new Netflix documentary White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, Barrientos, along with two other plaintiffs, told their stories. Below, she shares, in her own words, what happened years ago – and what she thinks about A&F’s budding popularity.

The first time I went to Abercrombie & Fitch, I heard the store before I could see it. I was walking through the mall, shopping with my family, when I heard loud music in the house. REMOVEoom, boom. When we actually got to the store, I could smell Fierce’s perfume, and I saw the men up front with no shirts on. It was my first dose of Abercrombie & Fitch.

Back then, for me, the brand was great. People notice if you’re wearing Abercrombie & Fitch. If you’ve got an A&F shirt, jeans, or even a belt, it certainly won’t lose to anyone. That’s what people were wearing.

carla barrientos wears a green tank top, low-rise blue jeans and a belt

Carla Barrientos in Abercrombie & Fitch costume.


One day, I was shopping at the store when I was approached about working there. I had a little interview while I was sitting on the couch, and they asked me weird questions that had nothing to do with working at a clothing store. I have a friend who works there, so when I started I would walk around and chat with my friends and the managers. It’s not the kind of job where, if I saw a friend and wanted to chat, anyone would stop me. It’s fun; I would go everywhere, straightening clothes here and there. But then after a few shifts like that, my job started to change. Suddenly, my shift started later, and I mostly only worked when the mall was closed. Then everything changed, if our mall closed at 8pm, my shift would start at 8pm. There are many cleaning tasks, like vacuuming, dusting, window cleaning. No one told me they were going to make this change or why they were doing it. That’s not what I was hired to do, so I knew something was up. I just don’t know what.

One day, I was confiding in a friend who worked there, and I said to her, “I want more shifts in the day. I don’t have any. “I went to the manager and asked for more, and he told me there wasn’t anything to give. But my friend told me that was not true. She said they scheduled her 30 hours a week, though she said that was too much. She said to me, “Do this: You take my shift for the day. I’ll take your night shift. ” Easy. Same amount of hours, we get the same pay. So I went to the manager and told him my friend was willing to swap. But he bluntly told me, “We can’t do that. The shift you are assigned is the shift you are assigned. “It makes no sense. When I told my friend what had happened, she said, “Probably because you’re black. You are the only black person working here. In the day shift, it’s all white.”

“I was very confused. How do you work at one place, but you don’t get any hours? “

I know what she says is true, but I don’t want to face that reality. But after I asked my manager about the shift swap, everything changed. I was no longer on schedule. I was very confused. How do you work at one place, but you don’t get any hours? I was told to keep checking back, but when I wasn’t scheduled for several months, I knew I was no longer working there.

There were times when I doubted myself. What did I do wrong? Was I not persistent enough about what I needed to do to change as an employee? I never wanted to be seen as someone with a poor work ethic. I never want to leave a job in bad shape. It was hard to realize that there was nothing I could do. Not because of something I can change; it’s about who I am as a Negro. It was really painful. When I heard Abercrombie say it has a “The American look,” I saw myself in that. I’ve seen other people of color. I found others to be inconsistent with what Abercrombie thought of as “all-American”. It’s tough trying to handle that.

blonde woman wearing an abercrombie tank top and holding an abercrombie shopping bag

Courtesy of Netflix

Not long after I was fired, my sister told me there was a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch. I called this number connected to the incident and left a message, briefly sharing what happened to me. Within 10 minutes, I got a call back, asking to hear my story and let me know I wasn’t alone. Sometimes I thought, maybe this is an isolated situation. It’s just this store or just this area. It is true to hear that I am not alone, but it is frightening to think that this is a systematic practice, that tHis is how they work. I never thought a company would come this far. I’ve been working since I was 15 and I’ve never been in a situation like this in the workplace where I was discriminated against and then fired.

The lawsuit is a lengthy process. We had to answer a lot of questions, and we were highly thoughtful by the lawyers of Abercrombie & Fitch, This is not discrimination. You just don’t have “looks,” and looks have nothing to do with being Black. Appearance is related to attractiveness. It’s tiring.

“We were thinking out loud, Oh no, this is not discrimination. You just don’t have ‘looks’ and looks have nothing to do with being Black. ”

Then, after all was done, it was difficult to hear the company admitting no wrongdoing. But I do believe they will follow the consent decree and implement those changes as a company. I think it will be positive from here on out. Very disappointing to see it not being implemented, and the supervision is really lacking. Our case helped, but it didn’t change the company.

When change happens, it must be real. That means untangling problems and engaging completely different people. After our lawsuit, everyone responsible for when all these terrible things happened continued to run the company. But I think there is a possibility for a second chance. And now, it seems that over the past few years, the company has really changed. It became popular again, and for good reason; it is very comprehensive. I visited the website, and it is very nice. I see so many different people represented, people of all sizes, shapes, colors. When I worked there, Abercrombie & Fitch thrived on exclusivity. If you’re good, you can stay here, and if you don’t, you’ll go. Now it really looks like everyone has a seat at the table. Everyone can be here, and everyone is celebrated for who they are. That is not a negative. It’s not something that downgrades a company or a group; it strengthens it.

I dress a lot differently now than when I was 19. But I heard Abercrombie & Fitch have some nice clothes. I have not returned to the store yet. But maybe next time I go to the mall, I’ll go.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sentry White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch on Netflix right now.

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