Employee’s Suit Accuses Tiffany of Racial Bias

Thursday, May 29, 2014
Robert D. Kraus

According to the complaint, of the more than 200 management positions that represent Tiffany to the public, a range that includes executive officers, store directors and members of the board of directors, only one is held by an African-American employee: Michael McClure, the plaintiff in this lawsuit.

Robert D. Kraus, the lawyer representing Mr. McClure, says that pattern, along with his client’s experience, demonstrates “racial bias in the belief, conscious or otherwise, that African-Americans are not appropriate ambassadors for the iconic, luxurious and sophisticated Tiffany brand.”

In a statement, Tiffany denied Mr. McClure’s claims.

“The lawsuit allegations are completely without merit, and the many mischaracterizations will be addressed through the legal process,” the statement said. “We welcome and value diversity in all forms and emphasize personal accountability and professionalism in a respectful and fair work environment.”
According to the complaint against Tiffany & Company, only one senior manager for the retailer is African-American. CreditLucas Jackson/Reuters

Mr. McClure is employed as a group director, someone with responsibility for more than one store, and has worked at Tiffany since 1993, according to the complaint. It notes that he had received consistently positive performance reviews.

Last fall, after management changes at the company, Anthony Ledru, the new senior vice president for North America at the time, asked store and group directors to send their photographs. The request said Mr. Ledru was requesting the pictures “as a result of Anthony’s extensive market travels and meeting numerous people along the way.”

Then in the spring, Mr. McClure received a negative performance review, the complaint stated, and the company placed him on warning for termination. In addition, the lawsuit contends that even though sales at one of his stores had increased 15 percent over the year before, while sales at the other grew 1 percent that year, he was denied an annual bonus. Mr. McClure disputed the review, saying its unfairness reflected an “apparent agenda to get rid of him from the start and racial bias at Tiffany,” the lawsuit said.

In May, after Mr. McClure had hired a lawyer and the company had started two internal investigations, he received an anonymous interoffice envelope, according to the suit. “Shortly after Anthony Ledru visited your market he made a comment to a small group of male market vice presidents that I think you should be made aware of,” the letter said, as quoted in the complaint. “In reference to you, he expressed a surprise that ‘a black man is representing the Tiffany brand.’ ”

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