B&H discriminated against Hispanic workers, Labor Department lawsuit says

Story highlights

  • The suit claims Hispanic workers were relegated to separate bathrooms
  • Black and Asian men and women were also discriminated against, government says
  • B&H says the accusations are "far from factual" and "scurrilous"

(CNN)One of the world's most famous photography stores is facing accusations that it discriminated against women and minorities and relegated Hispanic warehouse workers to separate restrooms.

A lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor last week alleges that B&H Foto & Electronics Corp "systematically discriminated against Hispanic employees and female, black and Asian job seekers at its Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse."
    The store, which takes up an entire block in New York and has been a Mecca for AV enthusiasts for decades, said accusations in the lawsuit are "far from factual" and slammed what it called "scurrilous narratives."
    "The allegations you have been hearing about are largely made by people who have never set foot in a B&H facility," the store said in a statement to customers posted on its website this week.
    Many of the claims in the federal lawsuit relate to the store's alleged treatment of Hispanic workers.
    According to the Labor Department, the store hired only Hispanic men to work in entry-level labor jobs at the Brooklyn facility -- a hiring practice that contributed "to the complete exclusion of female employees at the warehouse and the near exclusion of black and Asian employees."
    Once hired, Hispanic workers were promoted and compensated at a lower rate than comparable white workers, the lawsuit alleges.
    They were also "subjected to racist remarks, degrading comments and harassment at the worksite" and relegated to "separate, unsanitary and often inoperable restrooms," the Labor Department said.
    "The offensive conditions pervaded the workplace where the Hispanic warehouse workers had unequal access to basic hygienic restroom facilities," the lawsuit alleges. "Upon information and belief, Hispanic warehouse workers had no option but to use unsanitary and often inoperable restrooms, which were separate and apart from superior restrooms used by the white warehouse workers."
    The statement released by B&H does not respond directly to all the lawsuit's allegations, but says every employee at the store "is treated with respect and dignity, no matter of race, religion or gender." Employees are well compensated and offered generous benefits, the store says.
    "We can declare outright that B&H does NOT have any segregated bathrooms by race or religion, and anyone working at B&H knows that to be true," the statement says. "Additionally, any similar contentions are not only inaccurate, but bizarre."
    On its website, the store says it "employs an incredibly diverse group of people."
    B&H has been sued in recent years by Hispanic and female employees who charged the company with similar claims.
    The company settled a similar discrimination case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for $4.3 million in 2007. That case alleged the store paid Hispanic employees less than non-Hispanic workers and failed to promote them or provide them health benefits "based on their national origin."
    Last week's lawsuit was filed by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. If B&H fails to correct the alleged discriminatory policies and provide relief to those affected, the office is requesting the cancellation of the store's contracts with the federal government.
    B&H has supply contracts with the General Services Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation valued at more than $46 million, according to the Department of Labor.