Ex-Gucci Tax Lawyer Claims Race Discrimination in $5M Federal Suit Against U.S. Unit, Executives

NEW YORK, NY  / PRBuzz / June 3, 2011 - - A former international tax lawyer at the Italian luxury goods firm Gucci accused the company and several key executives at its U.S. headquarters in Manhattan of discrimination and retaliation in a just-filed a federal lawsuit that seeks more than $5 million in damages.

The suit was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan (Index No 1:11-cv-03742-WHP) by Josephine Robinson, a dark-skinned West Indian Latina. She alleged she was fired in retaliation for complaining repeatedly about racist jokes, references to her color and a diagnosis of depression.

"Gucci, has taken adverse employment actions against Plaintiff (including suspension, discipline, and termination), subjected her to a hostile work environment and/or maintained an atmosphere of adverse actions, which were motivated, in part, upon Plaintiff's gender/sex, national origin, race, and disability and/or perceived disability, as well as her opposition to discriminatory practices" in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, New York State Executive Law and New York City Human Rights Law, the suit alleged.

The suit, which seeks monetary damages, a court-order to clear her employment record and an injunction against further discrimination, named as defendants: Gucci America; Matteo Mascazzini, associate president of Gucci; Stan Sherwood, executive international tax counsel, and Christy Leleck, Gucci's director of human resources.

Robinson, a Manhattan resident with a law degree from NYU and a former lawyer at one of the nation's top "white-shoe" law firms, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, said in her suit that Sherwood, who was her supervisor, frequently made references about her color, told racist jokes in her presence and told her she would not be promoted because she was black. Robinson worked at Gucci from March 2008 until she was fired last November.

She claimed that as result of her complaints, she was reprimanded, twice suspended and ultimately fired.

"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," said Robinson's attorney, Rick Ostrove, of the Carle Place, N.Y. law firm Leeds Morelli & Brown PC.

"Ms. Robinson's allegations are well documented in emails and taped conversations," said Lenard Leeds, another of her lawyers.

The suit follows by little more than a year the filing of a sexual harassment suit against Gucci by a former salesman at the Gucci Fifth Avenue store. The salesman alleged that he was discriminated against and harassed by two gay bosses because he was straight and rejected their advances. Gucci has denied the allegations. That case, also in Manhattan federal court (Index No. 10-CV-03388), is proceeding.

Robinson, claims in her suit that Gucci America assistant general counsel Stefania Sicari advised her that if she continued to complain about harassment or discrimination, "you are asking to be fired."   Sicari, according to the suit, also told Robinson that Gucci "has a high tolerance for racism."

According to the suit, while Robinson was working on a contract for pop star, Rihanna, in 2008, Sherwood discovered that Rihanna was from a Caribbean Island. He told Robinson to "tax the hell out of her" and find a way to allow Gucci to withhold 30 percent of her fee. 

Robinson claimed Sherwood often referred to her  "cheap day labor," called her a "loose woman" and told interns that he picked her off the street.  He also is alleged to have called her a prostitute, according to the suit. 

She further alleged that Sherwood complained of receiving unfavorable accommodations at a corporate retreat in Italy, because of her race and frequently referred to her as "black, very very black."

The case is assigned to U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley III.

About Leeds Morelli & Brown, PC

Based in Carle Place, NY, Leeds Morelli & Brown, LLP is a New York City area law firm dedicated to providing the highest quality guidance and representation to clients with concerns involving a broad range of legal practice areas. Over the last two decades, the firm's attorneys have become widely known and respected -- in New York and across the U.S. -- for their ability to litigate complex legal issues effectively, and for the outstanding results the firm has achieved, particularly in the areas of employment law, civil rights, discrimination and sexual harassment. For more information call 1-800-585 4658 or visit www.lmblaw.com

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