Philipp Plein belongs to that category of public figures (real or fictitious) that audiences love to hate – a bit like Game of Thrones‘ Jeoffrey, Byron Moreno or Matteo Renzi. To be honest, though, it has to be said that Plein doesn’t do much to make himself loved. Whether it’s blatant copies of brand designs far more deserving than his, horribly distasteful homages to Kobe Bryant, advertising campaigns halfway between a Michael Bay poster and GTA San Andreas graphics or simple improper uses of the Ferrari logo (for which the designer had to pay saltily).
Plein is the very embodiment of vulgar luxury and parvenu aesthetics. However, the designer showed yesterday that at worst there is never an end: a lawsuit filed against him for discrimination revealed that not only would the designer openly discriminate against his employees based on sexual orientation but that he would also fire a regional manager, Amro Alsoleibi, after a series of episodes of privacy violations and corporate bullying related to his HIV positive status.
To sum up the story, Alsoleibi is a manager with a long career in fashion who has also worked for Chloé, Etro, Fendi and Valentino. After complaining about a series of homophobic comments, he was denied the opportunity to visit his brother on his deathbed in Syria (a right that New York law instead granted him) and was suddenly revoked even medical insurance, forcing him to reveal that he was HIV positive, a health condition that requires intense and expensive medical care but which is also covered by the right to privacy.
At that point the brand gave him back the insurance coverage but began to «intrusively monitor» his state of health, using it as an excuse to prevent him from travelling and hindering him in carrying out his work – a path that then culminated with the withdrawal of the employee discount, the ouster from work for the opening of two of the brand’s stores and finally with the dismissal in 2019. The lawsuit states:
“Alsoleibi was terminated as a direct result of his sexual orientation and HIV-positive status, and was in retaliation for his multiple complaints about defendants’ unlawful employment policies and hostile work environment.”
This would already be enough to arouse a certain amount of indignation, were it not for the fact that the lawsuit reveals a series of episodes related to systemic homophobia present throughout the Plein multimillion-dollar company.
The text of the lawsuit says: «Plein [who wasn’t aware of Alsoleibi’s orientation, ndr] started to be transparent with his distaste for gay men, saying, ‘I hate to work with gays.’». The designer would also give explicit orders not to hire staff members just because they were homosexual, also told Alsoleibi to «stop moving your hips like a gay person» while he would tell the store clerk not to behave in a way that makes his homosexuality clear because his customers «are 100 per cent heterosexual». Another episode would have seen Plein tell a sales associate: «If you are too gay you are unwelcome».
Neither the designer nor his representatives responded or provided comments to the press. Alsoleibi sued Plein for damages, back wages, emotional distress, wrongful termination, hostile work environment, discrimination and harassment, as well as for violating some New York laws that affect respect for human rights and the disabled.