High-end handbag retailer Coach fired a manager for being too fat and pushed her to undergo surgery and take weight-loss hormones, according to a federal lawsuit.
Royal Oak resident Elizabeth DeLorean sued the retailer Tuesday in a rare civil rights case alleging weight discrimination at Coach’s Sterling Heights location. Michigan is unique in protecting against weight and height discrimination, her lawyer Sarah Prescott said.
“This wasn’t an isolated, ‘Mean Girl’ kind of comment,” Prescott told The News on Tuesday. “This was systematic, constant and a company-sponsored idea that there is a fit with our brand and culture and you’re just not it.”
DeLorean, 35, who also worked at the Coach store at the Somerset Collection in Troy, is suing for weight discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is suing for more than $75,000.
“While we do not comment on pending litigation, the allegations in the lawsuit are wholly without merit, and we strongly believe Coach will prevail in this matter,” company spokeswoman Andrea Shaw Resnick wrote in an email.
The Coach store at Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights has since closed.
DeLorean, who her lawyer said is not related to the late auto executive John DeLorean, started working for Coach as an assistant manager in 2002.
Five years later, she was promoted to manager of Coach’s store in Sterling Heights.
At the time, DeLorean’s physique “was healthy and petite,” Prescott wrote.
In 2010, DeLorean started to gain weight. By 2013, she had gained more than 100 pounds.
“It’s not like there was an illness,” Prescott said in an interview. “She was going through some difficult times in her life that were personal concerns.”
As DeLorean started to gain weight, Coach officials took notice and expressed dissatisfaction, according to the lawsuit.
A supervisor routinely encouraged DeLorean to take synthetic weight-loss hormones and join Weight Watchers, according to the filing.
The supervisor also encouraged her to watch weight-loss television shows such as “The Biggest Loser,” Prescott alleged.
Her weight gain came up during DeLorean’s performance review in July 2012, according to the lawsuit.
“What happened to the Elizabeth that would bring in Lean Cuisine for lunch every day?” the supervisor allegedly asked.
A month later, Coach instituted a new dress code.
“This dress code included specific style numbers of clothing that had been approved for purchase from local retailers, but did not include any approved options that were available in plaintiff’s size,” Prescott wrote.
In August 2012, DeLorean asked for time off to attend a weight-loss seminar.
“Why don’t you just go ahead and have surgery?” a manager allegedly said, according to the lawsuit.
That fall, Coach held an annual store manager conference. Nutritionists attended, lecturing managers about proper diet and exercise and a “celebrity stylist” talked about the appropriate fit of dress clothes, according to the filing.
In November 2012, DeLorean became pregnant. Eight months later, she was dismissed from the company, her lawyer said.
“A person who went from being a well-paid manager at a high-fashion brand to being terminated, that can be really devastating to a person’s self-image,” Prescott said.
DeLorean asked if she was being dismissed because of her weight, according to the lawsuit.
The area manager said DeLorean’s weight was not the official reason, but was a factor, Prescott alleged.
“The official reason given, related to supposed poor performance, was a pretext,” Prescott wrote. “In point of fact, (DeLorean) was discriminated against and terminated because of her weight.”
In August, more than two years after being dismissed from Coach, DeLorean landed a job at another handbag retailer.
“She had a hard struggle of unemployment and was trying to find a job and had a difficult time trying to replace her income,” Prescott said.