Magazine article Workforce Management

Clothier Dress Codes Fall out of Fashion

Magazine article Workforce Management

Clothier Dress Codes Fall out of Fashion

Article excerpt

Labor law

CALIFORNIA RETAILERS who require employees to wear the clothes they sell have discovered that dressing for success can be a real mess.

In late January, Gap Inc. tentatively agreed to a $1.8 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of 55,000 current and former employees at its Gap and Banana Republic stores in California who claimed the trendy retailer's dress-code policy violated state employment law.

The Gap suit is one of five filed in California in recent years. Similar suits against retailers Polo Ralph Lauren and Chico's FAS Inc. have been tentatively settled, though judges still need to approve the agreements and the parties aren't disclosing the terms, says Daniel Feder, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the Polo and Chico's suits.

A settlement between women's clothier J. Jill and fewer than 1,000 California employees over its dress code is imminent, according to the plaintiffs' attorney in that case. In 2003, Abercrombie & Fitch agreed to a $2.2 million settlement over a comparable policy.

At issue is the long-standing retail practice of "wardrobing," in which companies use employees as living mannequins. Such practices run afoul of California law, which prohibits companies from requiring workers to pay for anything of value, including uniforms or apparel, as a condition of employment.

While the settlements don't set legal precedent, they are causing retailers to rethink their practices. Soon after J. Jill employees sued in July 2003, the Quincy, Massachusetts, retailer reworded its employee handbook, according to Michael Walsh, an Irvine, California, attorney representing J. …

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