Josephine Robinson, a former tax attorney for the Italian luxury fashion house Gucci has filed a lawsuit accusing the company of racial discrimination. The lawsuit, Robinson v. Gucci America (U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11 CV 3742) which was filed on June 2, specifically names top executives in the company, including Robinson’s immediate supervisor, Stan Sherwood, who serves as executive international tax counsel for the company. Also named in the suit are Matteo Mascazzini, associate president of Gucci and Christy Leleck, Gucci’s director of human resources. Robinson seeks more than $5 million in damages.
Robinson’s career at Gucci spanned from March 2008 until November 2010, when she alleges she was fired in retaliation for complaining about the racist and hostile atmosphere at the company. If true, that would be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Prior to her employment at Gucci, Robinson had already built a pretty impressive resume. She received her law degree from NYU, which boasts more tax courses than any other school. Robinson then moved on to Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP. Milbank is considered a top law firm, with approximately 550 lawyers in 11 offices around the world.
Her work as an international tax attorney for one of the world’s most recognizable brands should have been another feather in her cap. However, Robinson alleges that she was frequently harassed by top executives at the company, including her supervisor, Stan Sherwood. According to a press release issued by Robinson’s attorneys, Sherwood targeted her because of her race, referring to often as “black, very black.” Sherwood also allegedly called Robinson a “loose woman,” “cheap day labor,” a “f-ing bitch” and referred to her as a prostitute.
In the complaint, Robinson claimed that she reported Sherwood to Gucci’s human resource department but nothing was done to stop the behavior. Instead, she was told that she was “asking to be fired” and alleges that she was reprimanded, suspended and fired for bringing the complaints.
The racist atmosphere at Gucci extended beyond Robinson, according to the complaint. Robinson alleges that Sherwood told her that the company “has a high tolerance for racism.” Robinson cited an example involving pop star Rihanna, who is from Barbados. Sherwood allegedly told Robinson to “tax the hell out of her” and bump her withholding to 30%. Robinson alleges that Sherwood did not direct her to treat other clients in the same manner.
Robinson is represented by NY law firm Leeds Morelli & Brown LLP. Robinson’s attorney, Rick Ostrove, has said about the matter:
These alleged actions by Gucci against Josephine Robinson are reprehensible and made all the worse because lawyers, officers of the court, subjected her to such discriminatory behavior.
In addition to more than $5 million in damages, Robinson is seeking an injunction requiring Gucci to clear her employment record of any disciplinary actions.