Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Worker with false arm in disability bias case against Abercrombie & Fitch

A law student with a prosthetic arm has told an employment tribunal she “questioned her worth as a human being” after she was forced to work in the stockroom of US clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she did not fit its strict “look policy”.

Riam Dean (22), who was born with her left forearm missing, said she was granted special permission to wear a cardigan to cover the join in her arm, but was later removed from the shop floor and made to work in the stockroom because the cardigan did not adhere to the strict dress code.

Miss Dean told the tribunal she felt “taunted” when her manager told her she could return to the shop floor of the firm's flagship store on London's Savile Row if she removed the cardigan.

She said: “I felt personally diminished, humiliated and could not argue a point I could never win.”

Miss Dean is seeking damages for disability discrimination at an employment tribunal in central London.

She told the hearing she would have stayed with the company until her law qualification was complete had she not been “bullied” out of her job.

Miss Dean added that, when she left the company, she “wasn't the same person”.

“I didn't want to socialise,” she said. “If I did go outside the family home I felt so self-conscious, I would cover up and wear long cardigans despite it being summer.

“I knew I would need another job but I couldn't face rejection all over again.

“I began to assume my arm would always cause me trouble.

“I was always prepared for children to be curious about my disability but to be faced with adult bullying, no one could have prepared me for such debasement.”

Abercrombie & Fitch has yet to respond to the allegations, but last night a spokeswoman for the company said Miss Dean's portrayal of what occurred was “inaccurate”.

She added: “We regret that Miss Dean has felt it necessary to bring a claim to the employment tribunal. Abercrombie & Fitch has a strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy and is committed to providing a supportive and dignified environment for all its employees.”

Akash Nawbatt, representing Abercrombie & Fitch, argued that Miss Dean “exaggerated” the effect her experience with the company had on her.

Mr Nawbatt said that problems Miss Dean experienced after leaving the firm could be attributed to long-standing issues.

He referred to a report from a medical assessment Miss Dean underwent to secure disability funding for university which said: “During her first two years at university she relied heavily on support from her mother to shop for her and accompany her to lectures and social events.”

It also described her as “becoming socially isolated” and said she was unable to travel by public transport because of anxiety problems. He argued that if the report was accurate, Miss Dean had overstated the impact Abercrombie & Fitch had on her wellbeing.

Miss Dean said the report was an inaccurate representation, saying she was social. She described herself as “a popular member of the university” and said she played in the football team.

Getting the right look

The ‘Look Policy’ of all-American store Abercrombie & Fitch instructs that employees “maintain a consistent level of dress and grooming that represents what people expect from (the brand)”.

Both male and female employees are expected to have “a clean, natural, classic hairstyle”, and make-up must |“enhance natural features |and create a fresh, natural |appearance”.

Fingernails must be “clean and presentable” and “should not extend more than one quarter-inch beyond the tip of the finger”.

The policy forbids coloured fingernail polish and dictates that toenail polish “may be worn in an appropriate colour”. The policy — set out in the staff handbook — does not specify which shades are appropriate and staff are advised to ask a manager.

The policy also forbids facial hair, and inconspicuous tattoos are acceptable only if “they represent the Abercrombie” look, the tribunal was told in documents.

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