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19 May 2017

Lawsuit: Shoe company discriminated against Serena Williams

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May 19, 2017 Category: Stateside Posted by:

By Julia Marsh, New York Post

Managers for the luxury shoe company Gianvito Rossi called tennis star Serena Williams “disgusting” and refused to give her the same discounts as white celebrities, a former employee claims in a stunning new racial discrimination lawsuit.

Whitney Wilburn, who is black, says she was recruited to work for Gianvito Rossi in 2015 from “another Madison Avenue fashion house” where she’d been for five years.

But once she was hired to run the Manhattan boutique, her boss, Grace Mazzilli, was immediately “hostile to Wilburn based upon her race and age,” the suit alleges.

Wilburn, 46, claims in the Manhattan civil suit that her “experience with Mazzilli left no doubt about Mazzilli’s racial animosity toward African Americans.”

“For instance, when the world famous athlete Serena Williams, via her staff, asked for a discount on her extensive purchases, Gianvito managers responded with racially disparaging comments about Ms. Williams which made it clear that the company did not want African American women to wear its shoes,” the suit says.

The managers “referred to Ms. Williams as ‘disgusting’ and refused to offer any discount,” according to court papers.

“When later pressured to do so by a contact at Vogue magazine, they offered only a fraction of the discount that white celebrities typically receive,” the suit says.

Wilburn also says Mazzilli, who is white, also “threw numerous elaborate dinner parties and social events for all boutiques managed by white employees … while never once holding an event for [her] Madison Avenue store.”

She was the only black employee in the company for a year-and-a-half, the suit says.

When Mazzilli fired Wilburn “without warning or formal evaluation” in January 2017, she replaced her with a “much younger white manager,” the suit says.

An employee at Gianvito Rossi’s Manhattan boutique said Mazzilli was unavailable to comment because she’s traveling in Italy. Reps for the company did not immediately return a message.

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