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Armani has been making headlines recently, but it's not because of New York Fashion Week. Instead, the Italian fashion house is accused of something very unfashionable: discriminating against its general counsel and then firing him when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Fabio Silva, Armani's ex-GC, is currently suing the company for $75 million, claiming he was subject to anti-Mexican discrimination and retaliation when he complained. His suit also claims he was fired just minutes after informing the company he had cancer.
A Rocky Few Months as GC
Silva had more than a decade's experience working as an in-house fashion lawyer. (Yes, fashion law is a thing.) For four years he was intellectual property counsel for Burberry before becoming their vice president of legal. From Burberry he went to Fab.com, the failed online retailer, then Armani, where he worked for only ten months before getting the (high fashion) boot.
Silva's brief stint at Armani turned sour quickly, according to his lawsuit. During negotiations with a Mexican vendor, Armani's CFO Thomas Chan repeatedly said he "did not trust Mexicans," Silva says. Silva was born in a "small pueblo southwest of Guadalajara" and raised by artistic parents who came to the U.S. to work as janitors in a psychiatric hospital, according to an interview in "Hispanic Executive" magazine. When Chan learned of his ethnicity, he began subjecting Silva to "heightened scrutiny and unfounded criticism," the suit claims.
Further, Silva claims that when he complained about his treatment, he was reprimanded and denied a raise. Soon after, he was diagnosed with operable colon cancer. When he informed Armani, he was fired within minutes, he says.
Silva's suit is a good reminder that employment discrimination can exist even in in-house legal departments. Armani's alleged discriminatory acts, if proven, would be a clear violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin and disability. But Silva isn't suing under Title VII or in federal court. Instead, Silva has opted to sue under the New York City Human Rights Law. It's a smart strategic decision. In federal court, Silva would need a unanimous jury; in state court, he needs only a majority.
Silva's not the only ex-GC in court these days, either. In fact, he's not even the only ex-fashion GC suing his former employer for discrimination. Ian Jack Miller, ex-GC for Zara, one of the world's largest clothing retailers, sued the company in June, alleging he was discriminated against for being gay and Jewish. Zara has generated outrage in the past for selling handbags with swastikas and t-shirts declaring "white is the new black."
Both Miller and Silva are represented by Sanford Heisler Kimpel which seems to be taking over the niche market of disgruntled former fashion GCs.