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Zara USA’s Ex-General Counsel Files Bias Suit

June 4, 2015, 7:58 PM

The former general counsel of Zara USA Inc. accused the fashion retailer of firing him because he’s Jewish, American and gay.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in New York state court, Ian Jack Miller alleged that senior executives “openly used racial slurs and exchanged racist e-mails” in the New York office of the company. Miller claimed further that both supervisors and colleagues sent him graphic e-mails and frequently made homophobic comments both in general and to him personally.

Zara is owned by Spanish-based Inditex Group, the world’s largest clothing retailer.

In an e-mailed statement, Zara said the allegations “are shocking, and -- although we have not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit -- we will respond strongly and vigorously to these allegations in the court.”

The company doesn’t “tolerate any behavior that is discriminatory or disrespectful,” according to the statement.

Miller, who was the top lawyer of Zara’s U.S. operations for seven years, said the alleged conduct worsened after the executives learned of his religion. He said in the complaint that colleagues made “derogatory remarks about Jews” as well as “sudden and unprompted inquiries concerning Mr. Miller’s own religious beliefs.”

Miller’s attorney, Alexandra Harwin of Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP, said in a phone interview Wednesday that in 2014 her client began to discuss the alleged behavior of his colleagues, including the most senior executives, with the top lawyer at Inditex. The conduct continued and, by March, the company lawyer told him his job was in jeopardy, Harwin said.

After Miller retained Sanford Heisler, a small firm that represents plaintiffs in a range of employment matters, it sent a letter to the company, according to Miller’s complaint. Zara fired him the following day, according to the filing.

Only after the termination did attorney Terri Solomon of Littler Mendelson PC respond on Zara’s behalf, Harwin said, declining to further discuss the specifics of the response.

Solomon didn’t return a call or answer an e-mail seeking comment on the case.

Miller, who alleges violations of both New York city and state labor and human rights laws, seeks in excess of $40 million in damages.

The case is Miller v. Zara USA Inc., Supreme Court of the State of New York (Manhattan).