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As first reported in The Guardian's Ramon Antonio Vargas:

A woman who says she sold nearly $50m in products for Gucci is accusing the fashion label of forcing her to work around the clock while enduring discriminatory comments about her age and mental health before she was fired for formally complaining about her working conditions.

In a pending lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago, Tracy Cohen contends that her experience during a nearly 18-year career at Gucci is only one of several cases which illustrate a toxic work culture at the renowned luxury brand.

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Cohen’s suit refers to eight cases alleging that Gucci officials, between 2010 and 2022, maintained sweatshop conditions in China, forced pregnant workers to have abortions, ignored sexual harassment claims, and even required women to wear straitjackets on the modelling runway against their will.

“This is a pattern of conduct that they have engaged in for years,” Cohen’s attorney, Tamara Holder, said in an interview. “How they treated Tracy, how they treat women … I believe that Gucci needs to be held accountable for that.”

Neither Gucci nor its corporate owner, Kering, responded to a request for comment on the claims from Cohen and Holder, known in legal and media circles as a former left-leaning commentator on Fox News who won a multimillion dollar sexual assault settlement from the rightwing network.

Cohen’s lawsuit said she joined Gucci’s Chicago store as a sales associate in 2006, when she was 38. She said she earned recognition as the store’s No 1 salesperson by 2018, accounting for about 15% of the location’s monthly sales and outshining about 20 peers.

Gucci responded to Cohen’s success by saddling her with an even higher – and ultimately unrealistic – sales quota, the lawsuit alleged. Cohen said the company promised to reward her with an assistant as well as international travel and attendance to glamorous fashion shows in Milan, Los Angeles and New York.

But in reality, Cohen said her work required to stay on her mobile devices around the clock. She had to work unpaid overtime and avoided taking time off because she felt her job was in constant jeopardy.

Cohen said she repeatedly told her superiors that she was exhausted, anxious and depressed in that climate. In return, she said, they insulted her as “crazy” and old, gave away her promised travel incentives to younger, lower-performing colleagues and hiked up her sales quota.

In September 2022, Cohen said she sought help by emailing Gucci president Marco Bizzarri, but he did not reply. She said that left her feeling as if there was no internal support available, and she filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as well as the Illinois human rights department, alleging discrimination over her age, gender and battles with anxiety and depression.

The lawsuit said Cohen continued performing well – her managers as recently as last summer even told her that her sales had helped them achieve their bonuses, she said. But she said she signed her professional “death warrant” by filing her EEOC and state human rights complaints, which were required to preserve the option of eventually pursuing a lawsuit if necessary.

Cohen said Gucci suspended her for the first time in her career in July. Without elaborating, the lawsuit said her suspension paperwork “listed incidents that allegedly occurred nine months prior”, and the plaintiff alleges that discipline was simply retaliation.

The lawsuit said Cohen served her suspension and soon helped sell $80,000 of customized goods to clients with whom she had a close relationship. Then, in October, the store fired her without severance, citing a pair of episodes in September that the lawsuit did not detail.

The store waited until after Cohen’s dismissal to deliver the $80,000 in customized orders, ensuring the commission went to associates and managers still at the location rather than to her, she said in the lawsuit, first filed in late January but not previously reported on.

Cohen’s lawsuit said she is among the 63% of workers who – according to a study at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst – eventually lost their jobs after complaining to the EEOC about their employers.

She demands damages, contending that her former bosses violated several laws prohibiting discrimination, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, abusive labor standards and unfair wages.

The lawsuit also argued that Cohen deserved damages because Gucci subjected her to tactics frequently used by labor traffickers, including by duping her with promises that if she just stuck it out a little longer she would eventually receive compensation commensurate with her unpaid sacrifices.

Holder – whose past clients include 50 plaintiffs who settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Twin Peaks restaurant chain – said attorneys for Gucci threatened to seek legal sanctions against her if she didn’t remove the trafficking allegations. But Holder said she had no intention of doing that.

“This case,” Holder said, “has international importance for … working women.”

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