ZARA USA, Inc. has recently been sued by its former General Counsel, Jack Miller in New York’s Supreme Court. Miller is asserting violations of New York state and city laws prohibiting discrimination, wrongful discharge, retaliation and a hostile work environment.
Miller is asking the court for damages, including lost compensation, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, liquidated damages, and punitive damages, all amounting to $40 million.
Miller held the post of General Counsel of the American department of the retail giant from January 2008 until March 2015. He helped to build the legal department and handled all the legal matters that ZARA USA, Inc. encountered during his time there, including litigation, real estate transactions and acquisitions.
During his time at ZARA, Miller began to notice a hostile work environment because he didn’t fit in ZARA’s demographic of straight, Spanish and Christian. Miller claims that his supervisors and peers began to send him homophobic emails, make anti-Semitic remarks, and claimed that Spanish employees had greater job security than other employees.
Miller complained to Javier Monteoliva, Inditex Group‘s highest legal officer; however, Miller claims that no steps were taken to rectify the situation. Miller states that on March 2, 2015, Monteoliva then told Miller that his position at ZARA was in jeopardy and that one of Miller’s peers, Dilip Patel, who had engaged in harassing conduct, was very close to ZARA founder, Amancio Ortega, and therefore was unlikely to be reprimanded for his behavior.
After Miller’s attorney sent a letter to the retailer informing them of Miller’s claims and his interest in reaching a solution, ZARA terminated Miller and offered no severance, transitional period, or negotiation of possible future employment at ZARA.
Miller believes that the company and its employees have not only embarrassed him but tarnished his reputation and that their presence within the industry will prevent him from finding a similar position with another company.
This could be a serious problem for ZARA as the major crux of Miller’s claim is discrimination based on his religion, which is Judaism, and his sexual orientation.
Miller claims that when a senior employee found out he was Jewish, she asked him why he hadn’t shared that information before. Moreover, when Patel discovered Miller’s religion, Miller claims Patel began to marginalize him and interfere in his work. Miller also claims that he was sent homophobic emails, one in particular that stated that marriage was an institution between a man and a woman.
These are serious accusations against a retailer who has in the past been praised for its business practices, its trajectory of success, and its level of understanding of its consumers.
ZARA’s responded to the lawsuit with a statement claiming that they do not tolerate discriminatory or disrespectful behavior and value all their employee’s contributions to the organization. No reply has been made in court yet. Stay tuned to see how this significant case will play out.