Abercrombie Sued by Former Employee

The popular U.S. clothing retailer defends employment practices, again.

ByABC News
June 24, 2009, 10:12 AM

June 24, 2009 -- Riam Dean's mother, May, never let her daughter use her prosthetic arm as an excuse. Quite the opposite. May Dean insisted that her daughter's disability have no bearing whatsoever on her day-to-day life.

"We've always brought her up equal to her siblings," Dean said, "and she believes she can do anything by herself."

At 22, Riam Dean of London, is already well-accomplished. A law student at the University of London, Dean has honored her parents' wishes not only with her achievements but also -- and more importantly, her mother says -- by maintaining a strong drive and sense of self-esteem.

"My daughter is a firm believer that it is ability, not disability, which counts," she said.

Now, though, Riam Dean's belief is being tested.

She is suing her former employer in London, Abercrombie & Fitch, for discrimination, alleging that her manager at the company's London flagship store moved her off the main floor because of her prosthetic arm.

New Albany, Ohio-based Abercrombie & Fitch released a statement refuting Dean's story, noting that the company "is committed to providing a supportive and dignified environment for all of its employees."

Dean claims in an affidavit that the ordeal had such a severe emotional effect on her, and left her confidence and self-esteem so thoroughly shaken, that she felt stymied by her disability for the first time in her life.

"My achievements and triumphs in life were brought right down to that moment where I realized that I was unacceptable to my employer because of how I looked," Dean, who was born with no left forearm, said in the statement.

"I just wasn't the same person."

Her employment tribunal started today, and she's seeking about $41,000 in damages.

Dean says in the affidavit that her trouble with Abercrombie & Fitch began almost right from the start.

Dean says that at a May 2008 orientation for new employees, she asked a member of Abercrombie's corporate staff for permission to wear a medical sock over her arm. The corporate employee told her that she should instead wear a white cardigan, even though Abercrombie & Fitch employees are supposed to wear T-shirts during the summer months.

After the conversation, Dean, who declined to speak with ABC News, figured the issue had been settled.