Abercrombie Exec Who Made Chain Less White, Male Departs

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. Chief Diversity Officer Todd Corley, who worked to improve the chain’s elitist image in the past decade by adding minority and female employees, is leaving to focus on his own think tank.

Corley is starting the TAPO Institute, an advisory group that will advocate for more inclusive leadership, New Albany, Ohio-based Abercrombie said yesterday in a statement. Amy Zehrer, executive vice president of stores, will take over his duties.

Abercrombie, which has drawn criticism for selling racially offensive T-shirts and embracing a frat-boy mentality, increased its diversity under Corley. Less than 50 percent of its store employees are white, down from more than 90 percent a decade ago, Zehrer said in the statement. Abercrombie also added women to its executive ranks: More than 40 percent of vice presidents and 75 percent of executive vice presidents are female.

“The efforts began around race and ethnicity but evolved to include diversity in the way people think, cultural differences, and creating an inclusive place to work,” Corley said in the statement.

Abercrombie appointed Corley to head its newly created Office of Diversity in 2004 after the chain settled three class-action discrimination lawsuits that claimed the company insisted store associates fit an image that excluded non-whites. Abercrombie, which denied it engaged in discrimination, paid slightly less than $50 million in the settlements and agreed to try to hire more minorities.

Offensive T-Shirts

The company has had to fend off other accusations of discrimination. Abercrombie recalled a line of T-shirts in 2002 after receiving complaints about designs that depicted caricatured Asians. Last year, Chief Executive Officer Michael Jeffries came under fire when a 2006 interview in which he suggested that the company only sought cool, good-looking customers resurfaced on the Internet.

Abercrombie shares fell 2.5 percent to $41.69 at the close in New York. The stock has climbed 27 percent this year, compared with a 6.3 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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