LONDON, ENGLAND: A few years ago, I applied for a position with Hollister over at Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, Michigan. They had open interviews every Tuesday and Friday at 4pm, and I attended one of them. They asked me and several other applicants questions on defining diversity, customer service, what can we bring to their company, etc as well as the certain look Hollister employees must have when working with customers. They also said that for the men, we had to be clean shaven, which was no problem for me — yet I think I remembered having a beard at that time, which may not helped my chances of being hired.
Riam Dean was working for the London branch of Abercromie & Fitch to pay for law school in Britain. However, when the company discovered that she has a “plastic arm”, they decided to move her from working with customers out in front to working in the stockroom at the back. “They didn’t ask her to remove her prosthetic arm; they asked her to remove the cardigan covering the joint” said Sasha Pasulka, lead journalist for Zelda Lily, a website that covers women’s interests such as discrimination, which is what happened to Riam because she violated the “look policy” of Abercrombie & Fitch, and this led to an unjust termination.
The story has been making a splash not just in London, but throughout the world (go to http://zeldalily.com/index.php/2009/06/the-only-artificial-thing-abercrombie-fitch-wants-on-its-employees-is-its-image-yup-another-lawsuit/)
“It’s hard for someone to work in the back with a plastic arm. It’s just ridiculous” Sasha continues. “Abercrombie & Fitch has a certain image to maintain. So, she [Riam] basically gets the shaft because she didn’t have a perfect body. She was hoping to pay for law school. It’s just so hard on her. She never got an apology.”
Both Sasha and Zelda Lily were fortunate to talk to Riam, who spoke in the interview about her manager’s “combative and aggressive attitude”:
It made me feel as though she had picked up on my most personal, sensitive and deeply buried insecurities about being accepted and included. Her words pierced right through the armor of 20 years of building up personal confidence about me as a person, and that I am much more than a girl with only one arm. She brought me back down to earth to a point where I questioned my self worth. My achievements and triumphs in life were brought right down to that moment where I realized that I was unacceptable to my employer because of how I looked. I have never before encountered the stark reality of this attitude, but deep down I have always feared this, and in that moment my worst fears were realized. My entire perception of my own my self worth was shattered. It was a moment of clarity and pain.
Most recently, the website has also spoken exclusively with Riam, her mother and close friend Elizabeth Gaston (go to http://zeldalily.com/index.php/2009/06/riam-dean-i-questioned-my-self-worth-zelda-lily-exclusive/)
Like Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch is one of several companies that has a reputation for being picky when it comes to hiring new employees not based on skills and experience, but probably based on looks and appearances alone — like a popularity contest, in which who’s hot and who’s not.
Sasha stated that Riam has been both really depressed and sad since her unjust termination, but spoke that the young British woman is getting through it out and wants to get the word out. Her discrimination case against Abercrombie & Fitch reaches its conclusion this week; a verdict won’t be in for atleast six weeks.