A former employee of the Italian fashion house Etro, a family-owned brand known for its lush textiles and boho deluxe aesthetic, filed a lawsuit against the company and its leadership this week that says they have discriminated against employees on the basis of race, gender and age for more than two decades.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court by Kim Weiner, who spent about 25 years at Etro and performed various functions for the company, including a significant amount of work on human resources issues. The lawsuit said she was fired in late June after taking a stand against the company’s biased practices.
The suit comes as the fashion world undergoes a period of self-examination in response to models’ allegations of sexual harassment by prominent photographers, as well as reports that reveal a dearth of female executives at the top of fashion brands.
Less trend-driven (or driving) than some of its peers, Etro is one of a handful of independent, global Italian luxury houses still in family hands. Now under the leadership of the second generation of Etros, the company does not disclose its annual revenue, but reports estimate it at $372 million.
The suit detailed various times that Ms. Weiner said she witnessed members of the Etro family — including its patriarch and the company’s founder, Gerolamo Etro, known as Gimmo — requesting that employees be fired based on their race, age or appearance. In one instance, the suit said, Mr. Etro called an employee “fat and ugly” before demanding that she be let go.
The suit also asserted that the company’s leaders would sabotage employees who had fallen out of favor and intentionally make their work lives miserable to try to drive them out. In one such incident, the suit said, Ippolito Etro — Mr. Etro’s son and chief executive of Etro U.S.A. — and Francesco Freschi, Etro’s general manager, told Ms. Weiner they had been intentionally humiliating one employee in front of his colleagues for more than two years “in an attempt to get to him to quit.”
In another, it said, a longtime employee was “exiled to a windowless office” in a subbasement and then Mr. Freschi began to send her “false orders” in “an attempt to cause her to make mistakes so that he could manufacture a reason to fire her.”
The suit also said that Etro U.S.A. repeatedly paid women less than men for similar jobs and that the workplace was a minefield of unwelcome comments about employees’ appearances, including that of Ms. Weiner who, soon after she was hired in 1993, was told she was “big … big in the right places.”
When Ms. Weiner was fired, she was told that her performance was based on a change in management. Her suit maintains that she was fired “solely in retaliation for her opposition to and interference with their discrimination.” Her severance package was substantially less generous than the company’s standard, the suit said, and the “sudden and vindictive” termination caused her to have panic attacks and severe anxiety.
“What happened here is that Kim Weiner stood up to the executives at Etro, called them to task for their discriminatory practices and was fired for it,” said Ron Schutz, a lawyer for Ms. Weiner.
A spokeswoman for the brand, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with an exhibition at Milan’s Museo Delle Culture that traces its history from its founding in 1968, said, “We are reviewing the complaint and have no comment at this time.”