Gap Sued for Discrimination, Wrongful Termination, ERISA Violation

A long-time Gap employee is suing the retail giant for discriminating against him because of his race, national origin, for wrongfully terminating his employment, and violating the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

Peter Bryan, who was born in Jamaica and is a United States citizen, was hired by The Gap in 1995 as a loss prevention agent, according to the complaint.  Bryan claims he received good performance reviews, was an exemplary employee, and was never issued warnings or otherwise disciplined.

Bryan claims his most recent supervisor criticized his accent, saying it was “too heavy,” and believes he was passed over for promotions that he had expressed interest in because of his accent, race, and national origin.

In March 2017, while working in a New York City store, Bryan noticed a customer attempting to steal merchandise by putting it into a white bag that the customer had brought into the store, according to the complaint. Bryan also claims the customer was agitated, as though he was under the influence of drugs.  Bryan approached the customer as he tried to go into a dressing room and followed proper procedure by offering to take the bag up to the counter. This resulted in a physical altercation between Bryan and the customer, according to the complaint.

Bryan claims a number of store employees that witnessed the event wrote reports supporting Bryan’s claim that he had acted in self-defense.

Several days after the incident, Bryan returned to work and was immediately terminated. He claims the company used the incident as a pretext to fire him, as he was acting in the Gap’s interests and defending himself from attack. He further claims there was no legitimate business reason for the termination and that other security employees, who were neither Jamaican nor black, but also involved in alterations provoked by customers were not discharged.

He claims “the fact that Bryan is a Black man of Jamaican origin who speaks with an accent was a motivating factor in The Gap’s decision to terminate [his] employment.

Finally, Bryan claims that when The Gap was requested, through counsel, to provide a copy of its severance plan, it refused. According to the complaint, the plan provides for the payment of severance benefits to employees who have been involuntarily terminated without cause. And because he was “an involuntarily terminated employee of The Gap, is entitled to severance benefits . . . because his termination was not for cause.”

Bryan is represented by Lee Bantle of New York, New York, who brought the action in the Southern District of New York.