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Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against Teen Clothing Store Wet Seal

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By Anne-Marie Green

KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. (CBS) - A store in King of Prussia, Montgomery County is at the center of a class action lawsuit in the works. The Wet Seal clothing chain is accused of racial bias. A former employee leveling the accusation spoke to eyewitness news reporter Anne-Marie Green.

“I was shocked and I was humiliated.”

That’s how Nicole Cogdell felt just moments after meeting the vice president of teen clothing store Wet Seal at the King of Prussia Mall in January of 2009. She had been manager there for a month and was looking forward to meeting former vice president Barbara Bachman, but she says right after the introduction she heard Bachman say, “’That’s the store manager? I wanted someone with blond hair and blue eyes,’” said Cogdell.

Four days later Cogdell was fired.

“I loved working for wet seal”

And Wet Seal seemed to love her, at least for a time. The company promoted her a number of times.

After losing her job she was disappointed, but she was down right livid when an email sent by that same vice president surfaced. In it Bauchman writes, “Store teams need diversity. African American-dominate, huge issue.”

She also has a glowing review for the King of Prussia store but it says of Cogdell, “not right fit for the store.” Cogdell filed a racial discrimination complaint with the EEOC.

“It’s not right. It’s just not right.”

After filing her complaint, Wet Seal offered her job back, but when she returned she found her concerns had not been addressed.

She quit shortly after returning to the store and hired a lawyer. They are now seeking class action status

“We believe the fact that this came from a senior vice president is not an accident ,” said Cogdell’s attorney, Nancy Demis. “They certainly wanted to keep African-Americans in certain stores and not in their high end showcase stores.”

Wet Seal sent us a statement saying it will vigorously fight the lawsuit and that it has an anti-discrimination policy. The statement continues on to say,

“More than half of our store management level employees are members of minority groups, and we are proud of the diversity of our workforce.”

Cogdell’s attorney has set up a web site for those who believe they may have been victims of discrimination while working at Wet Seal. She says they have already received a large number of responses.

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