Former Versace Employee Says Store Used Code to Bring Attention to Black Customers

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Versace is coming under fire for a racist practice that one former employee claims he was taught to abide by when he was hired at a Versace retail store in Pleasanton, Calif.

The former clerk is suing Versace over racial profiling, according to Women’s Wear Daily. In a confidential moment while being trained for his new role, Christopher Sampiro, 23, was told about the D410 Code. The code is meant to be used while ringing up black clothing at the register, but Versace allegedly also asks its workers to speak the code aloud “in a casual manner” to warn colleagues that a black person has entered the store.

It just so happens that Sampiro is a quarter African-American, a detail his employers did not know until he made them aware of it. And soon after he did, he was fired. Now the former employee has filed a 30-page lawsuit against Versace, according to the Huffington Post. In it, he claims he was told he was fired because “he didn’t understand luxury” and didn’t know “the luxury life,” according to the New York Daily News. But the timing was too coincidental: just weeks after he was hired in September and his revelation that he was biracial shortly thereafter.

Sampiro says that once he told his employers he was partially black, “he was treated differently and that he did not receive ‘legitimate training.’” The plaintiff is seeking class-action status for the complaint, according to WWD, and “alleges wrongful termination and failure to prevent discrimination along with seven other counts.” According to the publication, the suit alleges he did not receive all the pay he was owed and was denied breaks. According to the Daily News, “The suit was filed on the worker’s own behalf as well as others ‘similarly situated and the general public.’”

Versace courted controversy recently with an ad that depicted model Gigi Hadid as the wife of an African-American man and the mother of two biracial children, one of whom looks about 5 or 6 years old. This time, though, the kerfuffle was not over race but instead about the perceived glamorizing of teen pregnancy, as Hadid, 21, would have had to have given birth to the child at high school age.

The most recent controversy, though, is a prime example of a phenomenon that has come to be known as “shopping while black,” also known as racial profiling. According to International Business Times, “A recent Gallup poll suggests that African-Americans are more likely to feel discrimination at a store than when going to a restaurant, or dealing with police during a traffic incident.” The article details incidents of profiling in retail stores across the country, in which innocent shoppers who happen to be black are followed, harassed, and inappropriately accused of stealing even though they haven’t even left the store.

Some specific incidents the story highlights include a lawsuit filed by former store detectives against CVS, “alleging that loss prevention managers in New York City instructed them to track the movements of blacks and Hispanics more closely than other customers and routinely used racial slurs to describe shoppers.” The article states that, similar to Versace, employees at a Zara store used a code word to “identify and track” black customers. False arrests of customers of color were made at popular retailers like Hollister, Walgreens, Macy’s, and Barneys New York.

A 2013 Pew Research Center poll, revealed that 46 percent of black people reported unfair treatment in stores and restaurants, compared with only 16 percent of whites. According to the ACLU, racial profiling violates “the U.S. Constitution’s core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.” In short, it’s not only sickening; it’s also illegal.

Though many companies convicted of racial profiling have been made to pay hefty fines, Versace is hoping to avoid such a fate. The luxury brand has asked Alameda County Superior Court to dismiss the case, and a case status conference is scheduled for March 21, according to the Daily News.

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